North Country prison towns wait nervously on Albany

Monday morning, I’ll be reporting on the long, painful debate in the North Country over the future of the region’s prison industry.

With eighteen correctional facilities in the North Country, prisons are a mainstay — perhaps even the mainstay of our region’s economy — but there are indications that Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans big changes.

On Tuesday, he will reveal his first big budget plan for closing the state’s $11 billion deficit.

The Watertown Daily Times is reporting that Gov. Cuomo’s promise to leave Ogdensburg’s state prisons untouched is “in play.”

St. Lawrence County Legislator Vernon D. “Sam” Burns, D-Ogdensburg, said he was there when Mr. Cuomo made the campaign promise and believes he will stand by it.

“I hope he remembers the devastating economic effect that closing any of the prisons in this hub would have to the area,” Mr. Burns said.

Moriah town supervisor Tom Scozzafava told NCPR that he has also spoken personally with the Cuomo administration, hoping to lock in the future of his community’s state-run “shock camp.”

Meanwhile, NCPR and the Plattsburgh Press-Republican have reported on the struggles communities have already faced trying to find new uses for former prisons in Brighton and Lyon Mountain.

Empire State Development officials remained adamant Friday that they will continue to closely work on the [Lyon Mountain] facility’s future but that the agency has no funding to aid any marketing efforts.

Preliminary inquires have been made about the property but none with a strong interest so far…

How bad could closures be?  Some prison reform advocates are pushing for the closure of between 5-10 correctional facilities statewide.

But the New York Times is reporting that Gov. Cuomo is scaling back those efforts, due in large part to pressure from Republican lawmakers in the state Senate.

The governor and his staff had considered closing or consolidating potentially 10 or more adult and youth prisons and other facilities controlled by the corrections department, but they have faced stiff resistance from Senate Republicans, who are trying to fend off the loss of hundreds of state jobs in some of their upstate districts.

Now the governor appears to be scaling back his ambitions, those with knowledge of his plans said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to talk on the record about the governor’s budget deliberations ahead of the budget’s completion.

Even so, the Times’ sources that as many as six prisons — three of them located Upstate — could face elimination.

All of this tea leaf reading will end on Tuesday.  Then the political battle will begin, as lawmakers fight to protect the prisons and jobs in their district.

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