NY Prison’s Facing Deep Cuts

Prison system facing deep cuts.
January 27, 2011 from NCPR
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo will unveil a plan Tuesday to cut his state’s budget deficit, which now stands at more than $11 billion. Cuomo is considering massive layoffs that could hit as many as 10,000 state workers. And the state’s prison system could face the deepest cuts.
But prisons are a major source of jobs in upstate New York, where unemployment tops 10 percent. When the state announced it wanted to close the Lyon Mountain prison, which sits just south of the U.S.-Canada border, locals like Karen Linney were devastated.
“There’s no jobs anywhere!” she said. “So we need to fight to keep this prison open or there’s nothing.”
Lyon Mountain used to be a mining town. But as factories and mines in this region closed in the 1960s and ’70s, the state replaced them one by one with prisons.
“The state understood that the economy in the North Country was hurting. We needed help,” says state Sen. Betty Little, who spoke at a town meeting last year at the Lyon Mountain American Legion hall.
Little’s sprawling rural district has 13 state prisons, and she says they should all stay right where they are.
“We built an economy around these facilities and there’s absolutely nothing, nothing to replace those jobs,” she says.
Prisons As An Economic Engine
Strange as it seems to outsiders, people here have long thought of prisons as an industry. Jobs there are a kind of trade passed on from generation to generation.

Enlarge Richard Drew/AP
Richard Drew/AP
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo will unveil a plan Tuesday to cut his state’s budget deficit, which now stands at more than $11 billion.
But this livelihood is being squeezed hard by two big changes.
Crime rates in New York State plummeted over the past decade, and the number of inmates dropped 20 percent. Because the state eased mandatory drug sentences last year, the prison population is expected to shrink even more.
The other big change is the state’s deepening budget crisis. In his State of the State address earlier this month, Cuomo said using prisons to prop up rural economies is no longer affordable. “An incarceration program is not an employment program,” he said. “If people need jobs, let’s get people jobs. Don’t put other people in prison to give some people jobs. That’s not what this state is all about. And that has to end this session.”
Cuomo’s announcement drew praise from prison reform advocates like Bob Gangi. “It’s somewhat ironic that he says that’s not what this state is all about,” Gangi says. “Because that’s what the state has been about for about the last 30 years.”
Gangi says the old policy was too expensive. The Department of Correctional Services still employs nearly 19,000 prison guards statewide. But Gangi argues that the system also created an economic incentive to lock up people who should have been in drug rehab or mental health counseling.
“One of the problems with using incarceration as a jobs program is the fundamental immorality of it,” he says. “Because as he said, you’re locking up people in order to provide other people jobs.”
But rural leaders in New York say their towns provide a needed service, housing and caring for the state’s criminals. They accuse state officials of closing prisons hastily, with no plans for redevelopment.
We built an economy around these facilities and there’s absolutely nothing, nothing to replace those jobs.
– New York state Sen. Betty Little
Brian McDonnell has been working to help sell a prison mothballed in 2009 that sits smack in the middle of his community of Brighton, N.Y. He says the former Camp Gabriels was abandoned and left in terrible shape.
“There was black mold in a lot of — several of the metal buildings,” he says. “The state didn’t do us any favors by just closing everything up.”
‘We Need To Rally As A Whole’
Any new prison cuts announced Tuesday are sure to spark a major political fight in the state Legislature. Avoiding closures may be impossible, given the budget crisis, but Little, the state senator, says she hopes corrections facilities in these rural towns will be spared.
“I certainly don’t believe that we need to create inmates to fill prisons,” she says. “But I do believe that when we decide to downsize, we need to look at the economic impact. It would be my hope that they would look in other areas of the state.”
But prison guards like Chad Stickney are worried. He lives in Ogdensburg, N.Y., where there are actually two state prisons — one of them targeted for closure last year.
“We need to unite as every jail above Albany,” Stickney says. “Because that’s where all these jails closures are coming from are above Albany. We need to rally as a whole.”
The prison in Lyon Mountain closed its doors earlier this month, costing that tiny town more than 90 jobs.

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1 Response to NY Prison’s Facing Deep Cuts

  1. CURE-NY says:

    Paul Hutson (prhutson) wrote:
    Thursday’s story on the mothballing of NY prisons suggests a win-win option for the citizens of this State and others. Use these facilities and the communities that support them to serve as K4-12 charter schools for high risk youth, especially those from urban settings that have a high likelihood of ending up in prison from birth. Give single parents in high-crime, high-gang, high-drug activity the option to send their children to these boarding schools in the country. State subsidy? Yes, but the State will end up paying for the room and board of many of them in prison if the current cycle is not broken. These children would get three square meals daily, have on-site tutors, dormitories, and safety. These ‘campuses’ would need relatively minor renovations (doors for bars), and they already have libraries and trade shops for studying and learning trades. In the meantime, the single parent could get her or his GED and start learning a trade of their own while their children get the necessities and schooling they deserve. Finally, the citizens of the communities supporting the current prisons would keep the facilities, in turn retooling themselves as teacher aids, coaches, tutors, and other support staff.

    Debra Williams (debralovesgospe) wrote:
    Well all of a sudden the state is concerned about the inmates….wow …after all the money was made from contracts that built these he…ll holes…and people got dependent on the jobs…they decide to get moral…HA! unbelieveable…the news is crazy makin’ and the greed and corruption is unreal
    Friday, January 28, 2011 1:51:18 AM

    robert scheppy (scheppy) wrote:
    More brilliant job creation ideas from politicians that failed.

    Chris J (StVincent) wrote:
    I thought the point of rehabilitation was to work yourself out of a job.
    Thursday, January 27, 2011 11:47:40 PM

    Werner Lipschitz (W_Lipschitz) wrote:
    “We built an economy around these facilities and there’s absolutely nothing, nothing to replace those jobs,” she says.

    Wow, a new low for politicians. They can even find fault with less crime and fewer inmates. I guess it’s time for them to build an economy that’s not based around other peoples’ misery, and stop counting on the rest of the state’s tax payers to artificiallt prop up their economy.
    Thursday, January 27, 2011 11:38:12 PM

    Kary Knudtson (shock) wrote:
    trust me when I say most of the folks in prison are non violent offenders…we have been given every reason to believe that all these guys ” eat babies “….why else would they be locked up??? its not the individuals fault its big unions and the lobbyists that use serious ” scare tactics” to further funding to these ….im thinking im thinking….money pits…. but they were gonna be the” prison industrial complex” but they could not compete with China either….what a joke ……cut prison spending and and funding to community colleges ….good golly….ought to throw all those big prison lobbyists into prison…..peace…
    Thursday, January 27, 2011 6:40:41 PM

    Jeff Summers (jayess) wrote:
    So maybe it’s time for the WPA again… use the displaced jobs to either refurbish the prison properties, or do other infrastructure repairs and upgrades — that will benefit the local communities… ah, but that’s way to easy and logical.

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