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Prison Closure Proposals Concern North Country Officials

ALBANY, NY (WAMC) - The New York state budget passed first thing Monday includes a proposal to close two or three prison facilities. The idea is not sitting well in the North Country, which has seen facilities shuttered in the past.

The New York Division of the Budget estimates the closure of two or three prisons could save the state nearly $35 million dollars. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, appearing on WAMC Monday, said the inmate population is dropping and 1,200 beds are no longer needed.

“Twelve-hundred beds could be two big facilities, three smaller facilities," Cuomo said. "That’s why the two or three. And we’re going to do an analysis. Not needing prisons is a good thing by the way. Not locking up people in jail cells is a good thing. Alternatives to incarcerations is a good thing.”

In a statement March 29, NYS Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association president Michael Powers said “…double bunking has artificially created open beds, and open beds gives the Administration false justification.”

The proposed prison closures are of concern in the North Country. In 2009 the state closed Camp Gabriels. That was followed in 2011 with the shuttering of the Lyon Mountain Correctional Facility. 115th District Assemblyman D. Billy Jones is from Chateaugay where the Chateaugay Correctional Facility was closed by the state in 2014.  A former corrections officer, the Democrat says he will fight to ensure no more facilities his district close.

“I know from my experience we still have facilities that are double-bunked all over the state and that creates an unsafe situation," said Jones. "We should get rid of double-bunking and I do have a bill in actually to get rid of that.”

Beyond the debate over inmate population, Cuomo is refocusing the debate over the economic repercussions of closing prison facilities.

“I know they’re economic engines in upstate New York but God help us if we have to get to the Pearly Gates and say to God 'I created jobs in upstate New York by locking up people who didn’t need to be locked up'," said Cuomo.

But Jones believes it’s unfair for the state to abandon communities that accepted the prisons decades ago.

“Back in the 80’s and early 90’s the North Country took these facilities in with open arms. Now I’m not going to argue that prisons are quote-unquote good economic drivers," said Jones. "But the people that work in these facilities contribute to the economy in the North Country and now that people depend on these jobs to take them away from them I just feel is unfair.”

Franklin County Legislature Chair Don Dabiew says the prisons offer the best paying jobs in the area and questions the governor for not knowing, or perhaps revealing, which facilities will be closed.

“It seems like if there was a real need for certain prisons to be targeted he wouldn’t even have to think about it. He’d know which ones they were," said Dabiew.

Prisons that remain open in the North Country include Bare Hill, Upstate Correctional and Franklin Correctional in Franklin County; Adirondack Correctional and Moriah Shock Incarceration in Essex County and Altona and Clinton Correctional in Clinton County.