September 14, 2012

Editorial: Shock program should expand


— The state just ballyhooed its shock-incarceration facilities in a ceremony marking their 25th anniversary. Ironically, the prison in Moriah barely survived closure a couple of years ago.

The New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision operates three of these boot-camp-style prisons, the first being Monterey Shock Incarceration Facility in Schuyler County, which opened in 1987.

The others are Moriah Shock in Essex County and Lakeview Shock in Chautauqua County.

In celebrating the success of these alternative prisons, the state said they have saved taxpayers more than $1 billion over regular incarceration and have prepared more than 40,000 non-violent offenders for return to communities.

So why did it take a massive local campaign to save the Moriah prison?

The state proposal to close Moriah Shock was dropped in 2010 after then-Gov. David Paterson said he’d been convinced the prison was needed. Local officials, state legislators and prison employees lobbied Paterson for months to keep the facility open, not only because of the potential loss of local jobs but because they truly believed the program worked. And they cited national studies that supported their confidence.

The Summit Shock Incarceration Facility in Oneida County didn’t make it; the state closed that in 2011.

The state says the six-month programs incorporate “a military boot-camp regimen alongside intensive substance-abuse treatment, academic education, as well as pre-release and life-skills counseling.” After graduating, all offenders are supervised by parole officers.

The program has a proven record of effectiveness. State statistics show that 26 percent of people who were released from shock facilities in 2007 or 2008 returned to prison within three years, compared to 42 percent for all state inmates released to parole in 2007.

The short-term numbers are even better: Of the prisoners released from shock facilities in 2007, 2008, 2009 or 2010, just 7 percent returned to prison within one year, compared to 20 percent for all releases in that time period.

Shock inmates also pass the GED tests at a rate of 80 percent, which makes them more likely to qualify for employment.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo called it “a groundbreaking program that has contributed significantly to the state’s lower incarceration levels, improved public safety within our communities and reduced costs to our state.”

Paterson had planned to close the Moriah facility to save money. But statistics show that between 1987 and July of this year, 61,687 men and women were transferred into shock programs instead of serving time in regular prisons, with 45,135 graduating, saving New York taxpayers an estimated $1.340 billion.

As of now, 187 men are imprisoned at Moriah Shock Incarceration Facility. What the state should be doing, in light of the program’s value, is expanding Moriah Shock because of its potential to save money — and futures.