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Prison closures going forward as planned, despite lawmaker opposition


By Kelly Fay
Staff Writer

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In late July of last year, DOCCS announced the closure of four correctional facilities; Monterey Shock in Schuyler County; Butler in Wayne County; Chateagay in Franklin County and Mt. McGregor in Saratoga County. The agency said there is no longer a need to keep the prisons open and the restructuring would save the state $30 million in taxpayer money. Photo by AP.
February 10, 2014
The Commissioner of the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision indicated last week four controversial prison closures will go forth as announced. Despite heated opposition from several lawmakers and correctional professionals, the agency intends to carry out the closures by July 26 of this year.

In late July of last year, DOCCS announced the closure of four correctional facilities; Monterey Shock in Schuyler County; Butler in Wayne County; Chateagay in Franklin County and Mt. McGregor in Saratoga County. Boasting a 13 percent reduction in crime rate over the past ten years, the agency indicated there is no longer a need to keep the prisons open and said the restructuring would save the state $30 million in taxpayer money.

"As the inmate population has continued to decline, prisons that are no longer needed can close," DOCCS Commissioner Anthony Annucci said. "By pursuing policies that are tough, smart and fair, we can maintain or improve public safety on the outside, so there is less need to put offenders on the inside, delivering great savings to New York."

Annucci recommended the closure of the four facilities as a component of "rightsizing" the state's prison system. The announcement last summer provoked outrage among several lawmakers, who say the administration bypassed the Legislature on an important decision affecting their constituencies.

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Groups representing correctional professionals have also contested the announcement, saying more than 10,000 inmates are still double-bunked from an executive action by former Gov. Mario Cuomo which addressed over-crowding in 1990.

Sen. Kathleen Marchione, R-Halfmoon, has been a vocal opponent of closing the prisons since the announcement last summer. The senator pointed out that 15 facilities have been targeted for closure since 2011, which she calls "misplaced priorities." Marchione said she will continue to fight the planned closure of Mt. McGregor — a medium security prison which lies in the district she represents.

"The closure of Mt. McGregor would cost our community 320 public safety positions and hurt the local economy," Marchione said. "I disagree with the administration's closure proposal that would impact the public safety professionals who serve New York with honor and work in some of the toughest, most stressful and dangerous conditions imaginable. Very few New Yorkers could walk those corridors."

Marchione and Assemblyman James Tedisco have introduced legislation that would require the Legislature's approval prior to any closing of state correctional facilities. The bill (A.8180/S.05945) would also mandate any closures be announced at least a year before they are scheduled to shut down.

According to Annuci, a procedure will be established in the Corrections Law requiring the one-year notification window. However, the four upstate facilities — announced on July 21 of last year— have already met the standard and will close in late July of this year. Opponents have shown concern over the impact the closures will have on prison employees, but DOCCS maintains that "a gradual transition of staff to other prisons, other state agencies or retirement" has taken place since the initial notice.

"At the time of the closure announcement there were 673 employees at the four facilities," a statement from DOCCS reads. "As of Feb. 3, 2014, there were 386 staff remaining, and DOCCS personnel have been holding another round of meetings with those staff members to assist in planning their transitions."

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