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Michael Powers, speaking at a rally in Albany to save the Ogdensburg Correctional Facility. Photo from Powers' website, used by permission
Michael Powers, speaking at a rally in Albany to save the Ogdensburg Correctional Facility. Photo from Powers' website, used by permission

North Country corrections officer could be next to lead the union

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Next month, New York will close four more of its prisons. Among them: Chateaugay Correctional Facility in Franklin County and Mt. McGregor in Saratoga County. The closures come as part of Governor Cuomo's pledge to "reduce the madness of an incarceration society." And the Department of Corrections has reported empty beds in their prisons--they estimate the recent series of closures will save taxpayers $184 million.

The loudest voices fighting to keep those prisons open are members of New York's prison guard union--NYSCOPBA--which is set to elect their next president next month. One of frontrunners in the race to head up the union hails from the North Country.

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Reported by

Natasha Haverty
Reporter and Producer

Michael Powers is a sergeant at Riverview Correctional Facility in Ogdensburg. Powers was a leading force in the fight to keep Ogdensburg Correctional Facility open, when the state nearly closed it three years ago. And while Ogdensburg did stay open, Powers says his biggest concern is what effects this next round of closures will have.

“It’s gonna have an impact. Officers are gonna be displaced, they’re gonna be spending money in other places. They’re going to resonate loud in our communities.”

Like a lot of prison guards, Powers worked in facilities all over the state over the course of his career before returning to his home area.

“Literally a prison is a society within a fence or a wall. And literally it’s got a society, it’s got a store, educational programs, and nobody seems to really know and understand it.”

NYSCOPBA has been saying for years that prison closures make for more dangerous conditions in the prisons that stay open, for both the guards and the inmates. Powers says he and his fellow correction officers are seeing more violence behind the walls today than ever.

“I’ve never seen it in my 23 years, at this rate.” 

The Department of Corrections reported an increase in assaults last year—over one hundred more assaults on both staff and inmates than reported in 2012. And in the past fifteen years, the the number of people behind bars in New York has gone down, by more than 25 percent—partly owing to reforms of the Rockefeller Drug Laws; fewer people are serving long prison sentences for low-level drug offenses.

But Michael Powers says as the new leader of NYSCOPBA, he’d work to prevent the state from closing any more prisons. He says having a leader from the North Country would give the union a much needed push.

“This organization has never had a leader from the North. The North has suffered the most, in prison closures in the state. The economy is not all that great, jobs are hard to come by. And these jobs are great economic engines for our communities. And we’ve kind of had enough up here.”

Two weeks ago NYSCOPBA members voted out their current president, Don Rowe, who had served for six years. Powers goes up against Larry Flanagan of the Mid-Hudson region in a run-off election on July 10.

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