PORT HENRY - Due to recent changes in the drug law, more people are eligible for Shock incarceration in this state than ever before - which makes it all the more baffling to local officials why the state would choose to try to close one of the state's four shock facilities now.
"With those changes, three or four years down the road, they're going to need more shock beds," said Moriah town Supervisor Tom Scozzafava, speaking at a rally at the Knights of Columbus Hall Thursday evening to keep Moriah Shock Correctional Institution open.
Last year, the state raised the maximum age for shock treatment from 39 to 49, and inmates can now be sentenced to shock by a judge, even over the objections of the prosecutor.
Brooke Supernault holds a sign at a rally in Port Henry Thursday evening protesting the proposed closure of Moriah Shock Correctional Facility. Her father, Dave Supernault, works at the prison.
(Photo — Jon Alexander)
Speaker after speaker talked about the benefits of the a six-month, boot-camp like program in terms of savings and in improving the inmates' lives. George Clark told a story about an inmate who went back home to the Bronx after serving his sentence, then visited the area again to show his family the firehouse in Moriah he had helped build while incarcerated.
"It shows you something's working when an inmate comes up to the town of Moriah to show his family what they've done," Clark said.
Christina Slattery, who works at the facility, used statistics from the state Department of Correctional Services Web site to make her case: 31 percent of shock graduates are back in prison within three years, compared to 40 percent of shock-eligible non-participants. DOCS estimated last year that the program has saved the state $1.3 billion since 1987 by reducing the need for prison space for the 40,000 people who have graduated from shock programs.
More than 200 people, including about 60 prison employees, packed into the Knights hall to attend the rally. Many of them wore yellow shirts with "Save shock" on the front, in black letters, and "All will benefit" on the back. Guards from nearby prisons also attended.
"You're not alone," said Donn Rowe, president of the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association. "There are 22,000 members that don't want to see this happen."
Gov. David Paterson proposed closing four prisons in the 2010-11 Executive Budget he unveiled last week: Moriah, the minimum-security Lyon Mountain Correctional Facility in Clinton County, the medium-security Ogdensburg Correctional Facility in St. Lawrence County and the minimum-security portion of Butler Correctional Facility in Wayne County, near Rochester.
It is estimated these closures and dormitory consolidations elsewhere would save $7 million in the 2010-11 budget and $52 million in the 2011-12 budget, of which Moriah represents $9.5 million in annual savings and $695,000 saved on five-year construction costs. The closures would eliminate 572 staff positions, including 419 uniformed officers. Moriah shock had 102 employees as of Dec. 31, 2009.
Three state legislators, numerous union representatives and all 18 Essex County supervisors attended the rally. They all encouraged people to make their voices heard, writing letters to the governor, to newspapers and to legislators from other areas of the state describing the economic suffering that closing the prison will cause.
Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, R-Willsboro, and state Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, were there and said Paterson and the Democratic majority in the Assembly have said they will take another look at closing the prisons. However, many downstate Democrats have wanted to close prisons upstate for years, arguing that it makes more sense to house the inmates closer to New York City, where so many of them are from.
Little said after the rally she didn't know what was going to happen, but "we're going to fight this," she said.
Sayward said after the rally that she has been talking to a number of her Democratic colleagues in the Senate and Assembly, and they seem to be listening. She also said she has written to state Attorney General and possible 2010 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo, pointing to the economic affects of closing the facility and asking for his help. Moriah Shock was built in 1987 when his father, Mario Cuomo, was governor. The town of Moriah was devastated after the mines closed in 1971, and Cuomo said in his 1984 speech to the Democratic National Convention that Essex County is home to "abject poverty."
"I think we have a chance," Sayward said. "I really do."
If the prison closes, Scozzafava worried it would be impossible to find another business to fill the void.
"Two or three manufacturing businesses tried to locate there" between 1971 and 1988, Scozzafava said, "and every one of their applications was denied by the (Adirondack) Park Agency."
The 11 work crews at Moriah Shock do many jobs for municipalities, including maintaining the sports fields of local schools and helping to construct fire halls and ambulance garages. In the Tri-Lakes, they are helping build the Ice Palace for Winter Carnival, doing a job work crews from Camp Gabriels used to do until the state closed that minimum-security prison last year. They have also helped during natural disasters, such as after the ice storm in 1998, or helping set up sand bags when floods are imminent.
The town of Moriah built a $12-million wastewater treatment plant several years ago, of which the town paid $5 million. The prison pays $100,000 yearly to use the town's sewer system; without the prison, sewer rates would jump from $420 yearly to between $645 and $670, Scozzafava said.
As well as the savings to local governments, people argued the shock programs save money for the state because they are cheaper to run, because the six-month sentences are shorter than what those people would serve in a minimum-security facility, and because fewer of the graduates return to prison.
"This is not the solution to (the state's) problems because this is not going to save one dime," Scozzafava said. "This shouldn't even be on the menu."
State officials have said they will not lay off any of the corrections officers at the four closing facilities and have told area legislators that they will try to get the guards at Lyon Mountain and Moriah jobs at other North Country prisons when vacancies open through attrition. However, the closest facility to Moriah is Adirondack Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison more than an hour's drive away in Ray Brook, and Little said she doubted there will be enough vacancies.
Contact Nathan Brown at 891-2600 ext. 26 or firstname.lastname@example.org.