Rallyers hope to keep prisons open

ALBANY – Hundreds of prison guards – many from the North Country – rallied yesterday outside the Capitol, demanding that Gov. Andrew Cuomo cancel a plan to mothball four state prisons in July.

The closure list includes two state prisons in the North Country: Chateaugay Correctional Facility in northern Franklin County and Mount McGregor in Saratoga County.

“I’m angry that they’re taking the backbone our community away from us,” said Billy Jones, who works at the Chateaugay prison and chairs the Franklin County Board of Legislators. He said the loss of 111 civilian and uniformed jobs at Chateaugay Correctional Facility would “devastate” the economy of northern Franklin County, which already suffers from high unemployment.

Assemblywoman Janet Duprey, R-Peru, told the crowd that this latest round of closures is part of Cuomo’s larger effort to dismantle New York’s correction system. She warned that more downsizing would follow if Cuomo’s policies aren’t reversed.

“I had eight facilities in my district, and I now have six,” Duprey said, arguing that closures had meant more inmate crowding and risky work conditions for corrections officers.

“Our jails aren’t safe like they used to be safe,” Duprey added. “If this governor continues to have his way, we’ll continue down that slippery slope, and we cannot allow that to happen.”

Despite growing political pressure, Gov. Cuomo has made prison closures and correction reform a major part of his first term, including a controversial proposal to offer taxpayer-funded college classes to inmates.

“We are reducing the madness of an incarceration society and ending a system of unnecessary human and financial waste,” Cuomo argued in his state of the state address in January.

Acting corrections Commissioner Anthony Annuci issued a statement when these facility closures were first announced last year, insisting that prisons in Franklin, Saratoga, Schuyler and Wayne County could be shuttered without impacting “the safety of staff, the inmate population, or the public.” Annucci noted that as crime rates have fallen, New York state has closed nine state prisons as part of a “plan to right-size the prison system.”

The Cuomo administration has earmarked $24 million to help prison towns develop new economic activity following closures. But speaking yesterday, state Sen. Betty Little said that fund offers little comfort to rural towns like Chateaugay.

“We rely on government jobs,” Little said. “Until we can get enough private-sector jobs, we can’t just shut them down. There’s nothing to take their place.”