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Lawmakers, Union Hope to Prevent Closure Of Saratoga County Prison

Lucas Willard

NOTE: This article has been updated to include a statement from the New York State Department of Correction and Community Services. The original audio has been removed.

Republican New York state lawmakers gathered with union members outside the Mt. McGregor Correctional Facility in Saratoga County Wednesday to announce legislation to halt the closure of prisons throughout the state.

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced in July that four correctional facilities were on the chopping block in New York, including Monterey Shock in Schuyler County, Butler  in Wayne County, Chateaugay in Franklin County,  and Mt. McGregor in the Saratoga County town of Wilton. The administration has said that the closures and  prison reforms would save taxpayers $30 million. 

The New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association held an event with area lawmakers  outside the Mt. McGregor facility to protest the closure and announce a plan to make the Cuomo administration reconsider its decision.  

Donn Rowe, president of NYSCOPBA, said the goal is to "bring the governor back to the table."

According to the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, there has been an overall decline in the inmate population associated with a 15 percent decrease in state crime over the past decade. As of July, the Mt. McGregor facility, which employs 320, houses 455 inmates, with a maximum capacity of 544.

Rowe called Cuomo’s move to shut down the facilities ‘budgetary slash and burn’ and that the closures would not resolve more pressing issues in the state’s correctional system.

"We have called for many years to sit down and right-size this system," said Rowe. "We have over 10,000 inmates in double-bunk situations. We have more than 70 percent of our inmates at this time are violent offenders. We have a much more dangerous system than we've had in the past."

Republican state Assemblyman James Tedisco announced new legislation at the event, designed to require lawmakers to vote on prison closures introduced by the Executive branch.

"Any closing of a facility like this should have given us one year notification. We should ratify it because we agree with it or we should mitigate it and make amendments. Because we are a separate branch of government and should have those obligations," said Tedisco.

The Cuomo administration has also announced the closure of four developmental centers including The Oswald D. Heck Developmental Center in Schenectady by March of 2015. Closures were also announced for facilities in Binghamton, Brooklyn, and Queens.

Republican Kathy Marchione will introduce the transparency bill to the State Senate.

"There needs to be checks and balances in our system," said Marchione.

Assemblyman Tony Jordan said the Governor’s prison consolidation plan would take valuable treatment programs and services provided by low to medium security prisons like Mt. McGregor away from inmates.

Art Johnson, Wilton’s town supervisor also advocated his support for the legislation.

Johnson said that the Town of Wilton will take up its own action against the shutdown of a facility that he considers vital to the area.

"I know next week at our town board meeting we will be passing a resolution in opposition to the closure, we'll also introduce similar legislation to the board of supervisors, which I think will overwhelmingly pass as well," said Johnson.

Kirk Woodcock, Wilton’s Highway Superintendent, said the inmate population at Mt. McGregor provides valuable service to public work projects in town. He urged the union members in the room to make their voices heard.

"We have to tell the people downstate 'wait a minute'" - enough is enough picking on the upstate people," said Woodcock.

New York Senators Betty Little and Hugh Farley also attended the meeting. Mt. McGregor is scheduled to close by July 2014, one year from the initial notice given in July.

UPDATE: 9/26 5:41 p.m.

The NYS DOCCS emailed a statement to WAMC in response to Wednesday's event that reads:

“The organizers of yesterday's event either have no knowledge of current law, or are intentionally ignoring key facts in order to score cheap political points.   New York’s crime rate continues to decline, the inmate population continues to shrink,  and taxpayers cannot afford to continue to pay for empty prison beds.  This right-sizing of New York’s prison system  reflects this reality,  while with a goal of avoiding layoffs, by assisting each employee in transferring into positions at other facilities that are geographically as close as possible to their current work locations.”

It was mentioned in the email that the closure announcement is in line with Correction Law Section 79-a, which gives the Department of Correctional and Community Supervision to close the prisons with a one-year notice. 

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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