June 23, 2013

Prison program to be eliminated

DANNEMORA — The Merle Cooper Program, a popular therapeutic offering for inmates at Clinton Correctional Facility, will be abolished in the coming months.

“This is going to take some time to set up,” said Tom Mailey, spokesperson for the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS). “The goal is September sometime. It could take longer.” 


The Merle Cooper Program began in 1977 and is named for a long-time business officer for Dannemora State Hospital who died in the 1970s.

According to the Department of Corrections’ website, Merle Cooper Program is a therapeutic, community-intensive, long-term counseling series for offenders experiencing adjustment difficulties, either during their time in prison or with life circumstances in general.

Typically, inmates who participate in the program have been incarcerated more than once; had a history of substance abuse or psychiatric treatment; chronic disciplinary problems; bizarre and/or violent crimes and/or escalating seriousness and violence of criminal behavior, according to the agency’s website.

In the Merle Cooper Program, group counseling gives offenders the opportunity to openly evaluate their life experiences, the Department of Corrections says on the site.


As of June 19, the Press-Republican had received 11 letters from inmates at Clinton Correctional who said they were upset about the decision to eliminate the program.

In their letters, inmates spoke of the positive change the Merle Cooper Program instilled in them and how they believe they will be better equipped to live a crime-free, productive life should they be released from prison.

“To me, there isn’t any other program in the whole prison system like this one that helps people like myself believe that there is life without crime when we go home,” wrote Shawn Turner, who is serving a maximum of six years for selling drugs.

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