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Chateaugay Correctional Facility, now on the NYS surplus property list. Photo: Empire State Development Agency
Chateaugay Correctional Facility, now on the NYS surplus property list. Photo: Empire State Development Agency

How to close a North Country prison

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A few weeks from today, New York state will close four more of its prisons, including two here in the North Country: Chateaugay Correctional Facility in Franklin County and Mt. McGregor in northern Saratoga County.

It's a controversial decision, deeply painful to many people in those communities.

But how do you actually close a prison?

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Reported by

Natasha Haverty
Reporter and Producer

Natasha Haverty joins Martha Foley to sort through the process of shutting down a prison.

Martha Foley: So you’ve been looking into the case of Chateaugay and the steps they’re going through over there to wrap things up.

First I’m just curious about the people: where do the inmates go? What about the staff, the correction officers?

Natasha Haverty: So the offenders being housed at Chateaugay have all been transferred to other prisons around the state.  That already happened months ago. As for the 110 or so people employed at Chateaugay, between correction officers and civilian staff, the Department of Corrections says no one will be losing their jobs, everyone will have the opportunity to be transferred. And that’s consistent with how it’s worked in the past—take the last big round of prison closures a few years ago, of the 1700 jobs affected, the Department reports that all but 36 people either stayed working with, resigned or retired from the department.

There is a small group of people, staff of the prison who are still based at the Chateaugay facility and doing the work of closing the prison down. I spoke with Assistant Commissioner of the Department of Corrections Thomas Corcoran yesterday, who oversees the process.

“What we’ll do with the building is we will clean it out and make sure that all of the combustibles and things like that are gone out of the building, and like a broom—swept clean—and then the decision will be made whether we begin the de-commissioning, which would be actually  to lay the building up for cold storage—boarding the windows, draining the water and turning off the utilities.”

You hear Corcoran there talk about shutting off the utilities, that partly has to do with if they do find a buyer. But you know North Country communities are really skeptical about this process from past experience. The prison at Lyon Mountain was mothballed in a way that people feel let a lot of damage in that needed cleaning up. Camp Gabriels had these old buildings and problems that people think made it harder to find a buyer.

And here’s something interesting, but pretty standard—even with no inmates inside, the prison at Chateaugay is still a secure facility until July 26. So save for a few potential buyers who the Department of Corrections has to coordinate with, no one can go inside.

MF: And what about all the stuff that must be inside a prison? What’s inside of the Chateaugay facility, and where does it go?

NH: Right, so a prison has a lot of stuff. Just imagine—from the vehicles a prison uses to transport inmates, to tables and seats in the chow hall, desks, books. The Department hopes to find use for all the stuff, ideally at other facilities nearby.

Malone will inherit whatever is useful. Assistant Commisioner Corcoran told me Chateaugay has a tracked snowblower which he’s never seen in a prison around New York State, that will also go to Malone probably. You know, lawnmowers, kitchen equipment. And what doesn’t find a home at another facility, or another state agency it becomes part of the state surplus property. In fact, the state actually has an account on eBay for some of this surplus stuff, which listeners can check out.

MF: You mentioned potential buyers coming in to tour the facility?

From the last round of prison closures, it’s clear that selling a former prison can be a long process.

Camp Gabriels was closed in 2009 and only found a buyer earlier this year—a Brooklyn businessman plans to open it up as a summer camp and retreat center.

And then there are other facilities that are still sitting empty.

NH: It’s hard to say how soon the state will find a buyer for Chateaugay. And if the process takes a long time, they could take the route of putting the property up for auction, like what happened with Camp Gabriels. The state has done a lot of thinking about local economic development strategies for the region that could come in in place of the prison industry for places like Chateaugay. But there are people who are really skeptical about this.

And then there are bigger questions here, like what happens to a community when a prison closes where many people live and work and support local businesses. What happens to the deli on the corner, or the gas station.

Brian Mann has done a lot of reporting over the past year on Chateaugay’s fight to keep the prison open, and what this shift away from the North Country’s prison boom will look like for these communities. I’ll be headed to Chateaugay later this week to talk to business owners and local residents about how this closure is already changing their town.

MF: Well we’ll look forward to hearing folks there as they sort through all this.

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