Saratoga County

McDonald wants prison kept open

Instead of closing minimum security prisons like Camp McGregor, the state should allow overflow i

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Instead of closing minimum security prisons like Camp McGregor, the state should allow overflow inmates from county jails to be placed in those facilities, a state lawmaker said Thursday.

State officials announced last month that they plan to close Camp McGregor, the 300-bed minimum security section of Mount McGregor state prison in Wilton, by 2009.

Two other similar prison camps in other parts of the state would also be closed in 2009 because, state officials say, the prison population is declining.

Yet, at the same time, said state Assemblyman Roy J. McDonald, R-Saratoga, the state is requiring some counties to build expensive, multimillion-dollar county jails to house an increasing number of local offenders.

McDonald used the example of Rensselaer County. He said the state Commission of Correction is demanding that the county create more space in its overcrowded county jail.

“It begs the question: If we already have the room at a state-of-the-art facility with an experienced professional staff just up the road, why wouldn’t we take advantage of that opportunity and simply send them there?” McDonald asked.

McDonald will ask the state Department of Correctional Services, the state Budget Division and the Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness to conduct a “responsible study” to explore using the minimum-security camps as a viable cost-saving option for local municipalities.

When counties experience overcrowded conditions in their jails, they generally send the overflow prisoners to other local jails within their region, McDonald said in a statement.

The cost of housing the inmates is billed to the county from which the inmate came.

McDonald said the same thing could be done at a state minimum security camp, like Camp McGregor.

Each county would pay for its inmate or inmates. He said this cost would be far lower than building a new county jail.

“Do a financial study,” McDonald said. “On the surface it seems practical.”

During the time a study is being done, the closing of Camp McGregor and the other minimum security camps in the state should be put on hold, he suggested.

Camp McGregor, which is near the 500-inmate Mount McGregor medium security state prison, currently has only about 150 inmates in the 300-bed facility.

“This would be a great opportunity for the state government to show some leadership,” McDonald said during a telephone conversation.

Erik Kriss, a spokesman for the state Department of Correctional Services, called McDonald’s proposal “an interesting idea.”

But to accomplish it would require “statutory changes in the state law.”

“Who would run this place?” Kriss asked. He asked if the facility would be for inmates from just one county or from several counties.

“This is not a decision for us to make,” Kriss said. He said the state Legislature and the governor would have to decide.

McDonald noted that it was the state Department of Correctional Services that recommended closing the minimum-security prison camps as a way to save money in Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s new state budget.

Kriss said that the pressure on counties to improve or replace their jails is coming from the state Commission of Correction, a watchdog agency, not the Correctional Services Department.

“We have nothing to do with county jails,” Kriss said.

Kriss said McDonald’s idea seems to make some sense. “But translating the idea into a practical reality, I just don’t know.”

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