August 4, 2013

Editorial: Chateaugay prison essential


---- — Local officials are gearing up to try to save Chateaugay Correctional Facility, and we hope they are successful, as the small communities of the North Country seem to be taking an unfair hit in regard to prison closures.

The State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision intends to close Chateaugay Correctional next year. That comes after Camp Gabriels in Brighton was shut down in 2009 and Lyon Mountain Correctional was shuttered in January 2011.

The state has cited as its reason for closing four prisons statewide in 2014, “a substantial reduction in the state crime rate and drug offenses, which has caused a shrinking inmate population and less of need to keep more prisons open.”

The state says the closures will save taxpayers more than $30 million, that the 111 people working there can be moved to nearby facilities and that the 234 inmates can be transferred elsewhere.

That all sounds palatable, of course, but the fact remains that Chateaugay prison is still proving its worth, functioning at near capacity — just six inmates short of the 240 it is designed to hold — and providing a niche service: incarcerating parole violators on short holds.

The impact of the closure on a small community like Chateaugay — population 833 in the 2010 Census — is far greater than in more urban areas. Prisons have been major employers in the North Country for decades, with higher-paying jobs and better benefits than are offered by most local companies.

Chateaugay is dependent on the facility for jobs and community commerce. Its closure will be devastating, with nothing to replace the loss.

The way it came about is disconcerting, as well. Gov. Andrew Cuomo had called for its closure in his executive budget in January, but the State Legislature restored the funding.

The governor has now circumvented the intention of lawmakers, surprising everyone here by suddenly giving the required one-year notice of closure. State Sen. Betty Little, Assemblywoman Janet Duprey and Franklin County officials were all taken off guard.

“Other regions of the state not only have a better capacity to absorb the economic impact of a closure, but the real estate is of much higher value,” Little told the Press-Republican.

Evidence of that is on display in the two other closed prison sites. Camp Gabriels, offered for sale several times since it was abandoned in 2009, hasn’t had even one suitor show interest. And a Canadian man was the only bidder in the state’s auction of the former Lyon Mountain prison, getting 27 acres and 23 buildings for the bargain price of $140,000.

Chateaugay Correctional is in good condition, being only 13 years old, and was scheduled to link to new natural-gas lines and a wind turbine that would reduce energy costs starting next year.

The North Country is ready for a fight, gearing up to save a full and well-functioning prison that is the major employer in the community.