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North Country Officials Criticize Planned Prison Closures

Part of the Annex at Clinton Correctional
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Part of the Annex at Clinton Correctional

Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced that the Watertown and Gowanda Correctional facilities and the Clinton Annex, a part of the Clinton Correctional Facility, will be closed by March 30st , 2021. Officials in the North Country are upset by the decision.
According to a statement emailed to WAMC from Department of Corrections spokesperson Thomas Mailey, the agency reviewed operations at all 52 correctional facilities and identified the three for closure based on a number of factors including physical infrastructure, facility security, potential reuse and prior closures in the region to reduce community impact. It’s expected the closures will save $89 million annually.

The corrections’ officers union – NYSCOPBA – Northern Region Vice President John Roberts says their office was summoned to a conference call Monday morning and informed of the closures. Roberts notes that the Clinton Annex is unique in that it is a part of the larger Clinton Correctional prison in Dannemora.  “A lot of services are shared between the two facilities and it’s still going to be attached to the main so that building’s pretty much going to useless unless it’s going to get repurposed. The savings isn’t going to be what they’re projecting at that particular facility. They’re still going to have to maintain grounds. It’s not like it’s just a place they can just close the gate. It still right there attached to the other facility on the same grounds.”
There are 277 staff at Clinton Annex and a current inmate population of 408. It has a maximum capacity of 735. State Assemblyman D. Billy Jones represents the 115th District where the Clinton Annex is located. The Democrat is a former corrections officer and is disappointed over the decision to close the facility.  “It’s like a kick in the gut here to the residents of Clinton County and the Town of Dannemora and the region. We’re not happy with it. I’m not happy with this decision and you know four days out from Christmas what a way to start Christmas week off. And my feelings and sentiments and thoughts just are with the employees that could possibly be relocated and their families. That puts significant stress on them. And at a time where we’re all stressed out and we’re going through these extraordinary times, to do this to these employees and to these families right now, I’m just disgusted by it.”

Republican Dannemora Town Supervisor Bill Chase says the impending closure makes no sense.  “The closure is the second closure within the confines of the Town of Dannemora in the last ten year. There was back in 2011 they closed the Lyon Mountain Correctional Facility which is within the boundaries of the Town of Dannemora. And then how do you close half of a facility anyway?”

Chase is a former corrections officer and says the impacts to employees could be felt across the region and state.  “For the unions and stuff seniority prevails.  So there’s going to be people getting bumped possibly or they might end up in a different part of New York state if they want to maintain employment with corrections. Because anybody with seniority at the Clinton Annex they might bump somebody out of the Clinton main who’s going to bump somebody. And the same thing with Watertown, they could be bumping people. And it’s not just corrections officers. There’s nurses, food service people, there’s maintenance people. The domino effect, a lot of people don’t realize.”

According to the Department of Corrections monthly fact sheet for December 2020 the state has closed 17 correctional facilities since 2011, “resulting in an overall annual savings of approximately $193 million” and more than 96 percent of employees impacted by the closures “…remained employed, retired or resigned.”

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