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State plans to close Chateaugay Correctional Facility in 2014

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CHATEAUGAY - The Chateaugay Correctional Facility is set to close next year under a new plan released on Friday by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

But that doesn’t mean local officials are ready to let that happen.

This decision comes after the Franklin County Legislature was told by state representatives in March that the facility was no longer being considered for closure as part of the state budget.

“That’s what’s disheartening about it,” County Legislature Chairman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay, said on Friday. “We fought hard and the state representatives fought hard to keep it out of the budget. ... It was kind of a kick in the teeth.”

The Chateaugay facility’s closing date has been set for July 26, 2014, according to a news release from the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. The DOCCS says Monterey Shock in Schuyler County, a minimum security facility, along with Butler in Wayne County and Mt. McGregor in Saratoga County – both medium security facilities like Chateaugay – are also supposed to close their doors at the same time.

“We’re going to fight it again,” Mr. Jones said.

State Assemblywoman Janet Duprey, R-115th District, said Friday that she did not know of the plan until that morning.

“It came out of no place,” she said, adding that facilities’ superintendents were notified Friday morning as well.

Ms. Duprey said she plans to speak with local officials, compile data on the economic impact on Chateaugay from closing the facility and create a compelling argument against its closure.

“We’ll stick together and see what we can do,” she said.

Ms. Duprey added that this isn’t the first time she’s seen a correctional facility close in her district. Since being elected to the Assembly, Ms. Duprey said she’s seen the Gabriels facility in Brighton close as well as the Lyon Mountain facility in Dannemora.

When asked if she thinks the decision can be reversed, Ms. Duprey said she’s seen some changed in the past.

“We’ve seen some reversed but some not,” she said.

The news release notes that there will not be any layoffs from the closing of the facilities; all staff will be transferred to other facilities.

“Since most of the prisons slated for closure have other correctional facilities relatively nearby, employees will be transferred to those facilities,” it states. “In some cases, employees will actually be able to move closer to home. For those with geographic restrictions, the state will work with the Department of Civil Service to facilitate employment opportunities in other agencies.”

But Mr. Jones said many of the staff at Chateaugay like working where they are.

“Most of the staff is there because they want to be,” he said. “It’s a unique facility. It has parole violators there.”

Mr. Jones added that Chateaugay Correctional is an asset to the area since the staff spends money locally, buying items at local shops, helping to fuel the local economy.

The release notes that the decision to close the Chateaugay facility was partially based on the idea that the amount of “imprisoned drug offenders” has decreased over time.

“At one time both Chateaugay and Butler were used as alcohol and substance abuse treatment facilities to provide a special program for addicted offenders,” it read. “Now however, with the changing demographics of the inmate population and the steep decline in imprisoned drug offenders, these facilities no longer fulfill the same department need they once did.”

The release shows a table listing the facilities, numbers of staff, inmates, and the maximum amount they can hold. For Chateaugay, the facility employs 111 people and had 234 inmates as of July 22. However, the release notes that these are “all technical parole violators with short holds.” The most the facility can hold is 240.

Overall, the release adds that the inmate population has decreased by 15 percent over the last 10 years and there has been a 13 percent decline in violent crimes.

“Since 1999, the prison population in New York has declined by almost 24 percent, from a high of 71,600 to approximately 54,600 incarcerated today,” states the release. “At the end of 1996, there were 24,085 drug offenders in custody. By comparison, on December 31, 2012, that number reached a new low of 7,053, which represents a reduction of 71 percent.”

By eliminating Chateaugay and the other three facilities, the release notes that there will be a $30 million annual savings for taxpayers throughout the state.

However, Mr. Jones noted that the Chateaugay facility is important for the north nountry, adding the area may not be able to bounce back as easily following its closure as other areas in the state could.

“We’re going to prove our case to the department [of corrections and community supervision] and to the state,” he said, adding that he’s already been on the phone with state officials and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office.

“I know a lot of people that work at Chateaugay,” Mr. Jones said, adding that he’s toured the facility. “It’s a good facility. It’s of great use to New York state.”

Ms. Duprey notedthe Gabriels facility has been empty for the past four years since it closed and how it could be difficult to sell the Chateaugay facility if it were to close next year. She added that it’s easier to sell buildings like these in other parts of the state.

“We don’t have that luxury up here,” she said.

Mr. Jones and Ms. Duprey were not the only one who spoke against the closing of the Chateaugay facility. Donn Rowe, president of the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association (NYSCOPBA), spoke against the plan on Friday as well, noting that “Cuomo has taken the legislature out of a decision making process in what is principally a budgetary action. More alarmingly, it’s an irresponsible approach to managing a budget within an agency that is designed for public safety,” he said in a prepared statement. “The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision attempts to create the illusion that the state system is rife with empty beds, but this is only made possible by double-bunking inmates. Instead of taking the opportunity to right-size the system – and make it safer for corrections officer and inmates – the state continues to warehouse inmates by double-bunking and maintaining crowded and understaffed facilities.”

Mr. Rowe added that if these facilities close, this will be a total of 15 since the time Gov. Cuomo entered office, noting that it has led to dangerous working conditions for those employed in the prison system.

Chateaugay had come up in conversations by the state legislature back in March as Gov. Cuomo had suggested closing a correctional facility. However, it was pulled from consideration at that time.

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