Are prison closures on the horizon in New York's North Country?

Published: Feb. 19, 2019 at 5:07 PM EST
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Are more prison closures on the horizon in New York's North Country? Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to shut down three prisons by September, citing the record breaking reduction in incarceration numbers.

Since 2009, the region has seen three prisons close -- Camp Gabriels in Brighton in 2009, Lyon Mountain in Dannemora in 2011, and the Chateaugay medium security prison in Chateaugay in 2014.

New York has 54 correctional facilities, including the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, home of the infamous prison break four years ago. North Country lawmakers and residents say the region can't afford to lose any more prison jobs.

"Keep my district away from those cuts, and I will fight tooth and nail for that," said Assemblyman D. Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay.

Jones worked in the prison industry as a corrections officers. He worries facilities in the North Country could be targeted under the governor's plan. "We've taken enough hits. We've had three closured in the past 10 years with prisons in my area, and those sites are still sitting vacant," Jones said.

Cuomo says that since he took office in 2011 the number of people incarcerated has declined from over 56,000 to nearly 47,000 as a result of falling crime rates and criminal justice reforms that favor rehabilitation over incarceration.

"Yeah, I am happy to hear that they are going to be shutting down because I think that incarceration is only one solution to social problems," said Kevin Sabourin of West Chazy.

The seven state prisons in the region -- including three in Malone, one in Dannemora, one in Ray Brook, one in Mineville, and one in Altona -- house over 9,000 inmates and provide direct or indirect jobs for thousands of local residents.

"The issue is so complex because it ripples out and effects the people who are incarcerated, their families, the prison guards," Sabourin said.

A major concern of many we spoke to are the potential loss of jobs and impact on the economy

"Think of the businesses that do business with these prisons and the people that work in these prisons and the surrounding communities. It would have a huge effect on that," Assemblyman Jones said.

There are also concerns the closures could cause security issues in remaining jails. The Correctional Officers Union issued a statement opposing the closure. "It means consolidating the incarcerated into other prisons, making them overpopulated and increasing the risk of violent behavior."

The union also claims that violence is already at an all-time high in New York prisons.