Although advocates for keeping Moriah Shock Correctional Facility open have argued that changes in the state's laws should increase the need for shock camps, other factors are offsetting this and even leading to a decrease in need, according to the state Department of Correctional Services.
Changes in the law have expanded the maximum age for shock treatment - a six-month, boot-camp like regimen - from 39 to 49, and judges can now sentence somebody to shock instead of it being purely voluntary. It is also possible now for some inmates to go to shock after serving a minimum three-year sentence and be released early if they complete it successfully.
However, "the vast majority of shock participants are low-level drug offenders," DOCS spokesman Erik Kriss said Friday morning, and changes in the Rockefeller Drug laws last year mean that more low-level drug offenders will be sentenced to treatment programs instead of incarceration. Even before the changes in the law, Kriss said, judges were sentencing fewer people to prison for drug crimes anyway.
"So, both of those factors are combining to reduce the number of potential shock inmates," Kriss said.
There was a spike in participants last year due to a backlog of offenders waiting for the changes in the law to participate, Kriss said. The number of shock participants statewide increased from 950 in December 2008 to 1,029 in December 2009, Kriss said, but the department is projecting only 940 in December 2010.
Gov. David Paterson has proposed closing Moriah and three other prisons as part of his 2010-11 Executive Budget. Closing Moriah is supposed to save the state $9.5 million in annual operating costs and $695,000 in five-year capital construction costs. However, local officials and residents are pushing for it to be kept open, citing the economic devastation the loss of the facility's 102 jobs could cause and the savings the state realizes by sending offenders to shock programs instead of prisons.
Kriss said there are "more than enough shock beds" in the state's three other shock camps to accommodate shock inmates. The state's other camps are Lakeview, in Chautauqua County, Summit, in Schoharie County, and Monterey, in Schuyler County.
One of the key factors in the decision to close Moriah Shock, Kriss said, is its location. The state's shock inmates are all processed at Lakeview, the biggest camp, on Lake Erie near the Pennsylvania and Ohio borders, before being sent to other camps, and it is more expensive to transport them to Moriah, in northeastern New York, than the other camps.
Moriah has 300 beds, but only 200 are in staffed housing units. It had 171 inmates as of Friday. Monterey is at an even higher vacancy level, Kriss said; Lakeview and Summit are at full capacity.
The state's prison population has fallen 8 percent in the past five years and 19 percent in the past 10, Kriss said. The need for prison space has been a source of contention between the department and the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association, which represents correctional officers. DOCS has argued that prisons can be closed due to the declining number of inmates, and the union is saying many prisons are still over capacity, with double-bunking common at some facilities.
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