Regional Development

Chateaugay prison top topic at forum

By: JOE LoTEMPLIO

PLATTSBURGH — North Country state lawmakers continue the argument to keep Chateaugay Correctional Facility open, but plans for life without the major employer are also starting to unfold.

“We still will fight to keep it open, but we also have to approach it from the point of what are we going to do with it if it does close,” Franklin County Legislature Chairman Billy Jones (D-Chateaugay) said at Friday’s North Country Chamber of Commerce

Legislative Forum breakfast.

“We need to know what the facility can be used for, how much help we are going to get, and there are a whole bunch of questions that need to be answered.”

111 JOBS AT RISK

State Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury), Assemblywoman Janet Duprey (R-Peru) and Assemblyman Daniel Stec (R-Queensbury) were the featured speakers at the forum held before a packed room at the Holiday Inn in Plattsburgh.

The trio answered questions about myriad topics, but the pending closure of the Chateaugay prison was a highlight of the discussion.

The closure of the facility is slated for July 25. In jeopardy are the jobs of 111 people with an annual payroll of about $5.1 million.

The state has set aside $24 million to aid communities across the state dealing with prison closures.

Jones said if final efforts to keep the facility open fail, assistance from the state will be key as the community prepares for the transition to life without the prison, which opened in 1990.

“It will be critical because we have to somehow replace those 111 jobs and $5.1 million payroll,” he said.

‘NORTH COUNTRY FILLS NEED’

State Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) said downstate lawmakers do not understand the importance that prisons play in the North Country. She said the loss of 111 jobs in Chateaugay is tantamount to Brooklyn losing more than 5,000 jobs.

“Corrections is a way of life for us,” she said.

“It is a business.”

While some of her downstate colleagues may bristle at that notion, Little said the North Country fills a need.

“We didn’t put them in prison, but we are accommodating them,” she said.

Little said she is against Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s idea of providing free college educations for inmates but believes there are ways to reduce the number of return offenders.

“The recidivism rate is 41 percent, and I think we can lower it with more programs,” she said.

“Programs like we have at Chateaugay.”

In a recent statement, Duprey pointed out that the facility is the only one in the state offering intensive instruction for parole violators and that the program produces an extremely low rate of repeat offenders.

‘DIFFERENT SCALE’

Little also said more needs to be done to improve the local economies so the loss of government jobs can be absorbed less painfully.

“Those are 111 jobs that will never exist in the North Country again and will have to be replaced by the private sector,” she said.

Stec echoed Little’s claim that the downstate lawmakers do not fully understand the prison economy and how it impacts the North Country.

“They just don’t understand the scale of things up here,” he said.

“We need to get more of them up here so they can get a better appreciation of the North Country ... They don’t realize that a dozen jobs up here is a big deal.”

HEALTH-CARE ISSUES

Duprey had to leave the forum before the prison discussion. Earlier, she touched on the need for more health-care reform at the state level.

The assemblywoman, who spent 12 years on the CVPH Medical Center Board of Directors, said the state must get a better handle on mental-health issues and how nursing homes, assisted living facilities and hospitals are utilized.

“Health care is a whole new world now,” she said. “There are things now that never were a part of the delivery of healthcare.”

All three state lawmakers said they believe the state will come up with a budget by the April 1 deadline.

“We really do have to give credit to the governor because he has done a lot to help the North Country and improve our economy,” Little said.

“He has been here so many times, and you can see it in the increase in sales-tax revenue.”

Email Joe LoTemplio:jlotemplio@pressrepublican.com

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