Press-Republican

August 2, 2013

County takes stand against prison closure

DENISE A. RAYMO
Press-Republican

MALONE — Franklin County officials are optimistic they can convince Gov. Andrew Cuomo to change his mind about closing Chateaugay Correctional Facility next year.

Chateaugay was one of four state prisons tapped for closure in an announcement last week with the idea of saving New York taxpayers more than $30 million through the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

The others are Monterey Shock in Schuyler County, Butler Correctional Facility in Wayne County and Mt. McGregor Correctional Facility in Saratoga County.

Chateaugay houses 234 inmates, who are all parole violators with short terms to serve.

The facility, which was opened in 1990, employs 111 staff members.

The state said no one will lose their jobs since they can be absorbed into the staff at other area prisons.

RELATED JOB LOSSES

But legislators say it is the impact to the Chateaugay community itself and northern Franklin County that is prompting the effort to preserve the prison, especially since the region has already lost Camp Gabriels in 2009 and Lyon Mountain Correctional in 2011.

“We’re going to get a team together, and we are confident we can put together a proposal to show what a value the facility is to the community,” said Legislature Chairman Billy Jones (D-Chateaugay), who is also a correction officer.

“They say no job losses, but 111 people won’t be shopping at Stewart’s or the IGA or Price Chopper in Malone or other convenience stores,” he said.

SAVINGS AHEAD

The Enbridge-St. Lawrence Gas pipeline under construction now in the western part of the county will include the prison next year, which, Jones said, will create a huge savings for the state operation.

And it is that kind of cost savings and efficiency that will be stressed, along with its unique mission of housing the parolees, which “is important to New York state,” he said.

“I do remain optimistic that with the help of local and state representatives we will put together a plan to show New York state and DOCCS,” Jones said. “We can prove it’s needed and efficient and it works for New York state.”

UNANIMOUS SUPPORT

The resolution opposing the planned closure unanimously passed by the County Legislature Thursday.

It states that Franklin County “has always welcomed correctional facilities when other counties in New York state rejected those facilities in their communities.”

They said the North Country economy is built around the prison system, “making our economy now dependent on open and functional facilities,” the resolution states.

Legislator Timothy Burpoe (D-Saranac Lake) said it was ironic that the governor would participate in the Adirondack Challenge one week to draw attention to tourism opportunities in the region then announce prison closures the next week.

“To lose 111 jobs in the North Country is devastating,” he said, adding that the prison cuts over the past few years have been the largest collective job losses since the Plattsburgh Air Force Base closed.

Burpoe said diversified business and industry is being replaced by tourism-related jobs that Cuomo and state leaders are promoting “to take care of the bluebloods who come up here once or twice a year. That’s not for me.

“I call upon the Senate and Assembly to go across the aisle and work with each other and make this happen,” he said.

BUREAUCRACY

DOCCS has said reduced crime means the satte can save $30 million by shutting down the four prisons, without impacting the system.

Donn Rowe, president of the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association, said in a news release that at the same time the governor and state are talking about closing prisons, they are adding to the bureaucracy within the correction department.

“Despite an already bloated administration at DOCCS, the governor is quietly looking to appoint 22 ‘assistant-deputy superintendents’ — a newly created and wholly unnecessary position — at the cost of $2 million in salary alone,” Rowe said.

“He does this in virtually the same breath that he announces more closures, possibly bringing the total to 15 facility closures since the governor took office.”

He called the move “the latest bit of hypocrisy” from Cuomo and the department, calling it “insulting to the hard-working men and women of NYSCOPBA, particularly those hundreds whose jobs are now threatened by the announced closures of four correctional facilities.

“While these new hires enjoy their $85,000 salaries plus benefits, some 700 upstate New Yorkers will be searching for jobs or forced to relocate their families,” he said, adding that hiring at this time “is the latest example of this administration’s irresponsible approach to managing the DOCCS budget, showing careless disregard for the safety of correction officers and inmates.”

In addition to the governor, Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) and Assemblywoman Janet Duprey (R-Peru), the county’s opposition resolution is to go to Anthony Annucci, acting commissioner of the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, Senate Majority Leader Sen. Dean Skelos, Senate Majority Coalition Leader Sen. Jeff Klein, Democratic Conference Leader Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver among others.

Email Denise A. Raymo:draymo@pressrepublican.com