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[I'm] thrilled and certainly relieved for the people who have been worrying from day to day.

North Country spared prison closures

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The North Country is breathing a sigh of relief today after Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that none of the state prisons slated for closure will be in our region.

State officials say a total of seven prisons will close over the next year under a downsizing plan released yesterday. The closures hit nearly every part of the state except the North Country, where correctional facilities are a crucial part of the economy.

Martha Foley has more.

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Reported by

Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced yesterday that seven prisons will close over the 60 days – none in this region.

“It made my Fourth of July," said Randy Douglas, who chairs the Essex County Board of Supervisors. He said he and other lawmakers from Essex County logged many hours in Albany lobbying to keep Moriah Shock camp and Adirondack Correctional open.

“We had reached out to them and said Essex County couldn’t take another hit,” Douglas said. “I’m so very happy for Adirondack and Moriah and our constituents – it’s tough times in the North Country and it’s just a hit that we couldn’t have absorbed right now. I’m thrilled to death.”

State Senator Patty Ritchie said the news comes as a relief – especially since two prisons in her district, Ogdensburg and Dry Hill, were rumored to be on the list.

"Certainly thrilled—you know not overly surprised—this governor seems to be doing the right thing for the taxpayers and looking at ways of cutting costs," Ritchie said. "So certainly thrilled and certainly relieved for the people who have been worrying from day-to-day over the last couple months about their jobs."

Governor Cuomo announced several months ago that he would shrink the state’s prison capacity by 3800 beds. Now, he says he’ll close four minimum security prisons, a shock incarceration prison in Schoharie County and three medium security prisons.

The governor said the closures will save $184 million dollars and eliminate “unneeded and unused beds.”

He attributes a declining prison population and crime rate, and reforms to the state’s harsh Rockefeller Drug Laws. In a statement, Cuomo called the state's corrections system "too inefficient and too costly."

Ritchie says that’s not the case for prisons in her district. "I certainly applaud the governor for looking at the facts and the facts that the facilities in my district are certainly the most cost efficient. And looking at the facts instead of playing politics," Ritchie said. "And I think that’s the reason why none of the five facilities in the forty-eighth were listed because they are the most cost efficient and they are saving tax payers money."

“Well it’s great news," said state Senator Betty Little. She said the North Country dodged a bullet - but only this time. “We still have two empty facilities that we haven’t found a use for, nor have we created any activity there and I think that the governor understands that,” Little said. “The North Country needs some economic development, some private sector development, before we can eliminate the reliance that we have on state jobs.”

While the cuts spared prison communities from Watertown and Ogdensburg to Malone and Moriah, Sen. Ritchie says some North Country workers could still be affected. "I assume because of bumping rights it is a possibility that someone will be bumped out of one of their positions at the facilities in the district," she said. "But that certainly is a lot less of a problem than if an entire facility had been closed. I don’t foresee many of the people having a change in their jobs."

A spokesman for the state’s prison guards' union says the closures represent a “significant threat to the safety and integrity” of the prison system.

In recent years, three North Country prisons have closed or been downsized in Gabriels, Lyon Mountain, and Dannemora.

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