We’re always encouraging state government to cut costs whenever possible by operating more efficiently and eliminating redundant, unneeded or outdated programs and facilities.
And that’s exactly what the state of New York did when it closed the Moriah Shock Incarceration Camp and five other prisons in March due to a significant drop in state prison inmates over the past two decades.
And that’s a good thing for taxpayers and a good approach to controlling spending.
The state simply no longer needs all the prison space it built to accommodate the nearly 73,000 inmates that occupied state prisons in 1999. That number is now down to about 30,500.
The savings of these closures to state taxpayers in upkeep and staffing is significant, about $142 million. Employees were either absorbed into the state workforce in other capacities or forced to find work outside the government. The young inmates once housed in the bootcamp-like facility in Moriah were transfered to a similar facility in the Buffalo area.
But the closings don’t come without a price.
First, the communities that were once home to them are left with large empty buildings, which if ignored and unsecured will deteriorate and become public eyesores and safety hazards.
Second and most importantly, the community loses the employees who support the local economy and government services through sales and property taxes, owning houses, attending schools, serving as volunteers and supporting local businesses. In Moriah, the closure cost 100 good-paying jobs, a number that’s particularly devastating to a small Adirondack town.
With all those employees gone, the towns and villages lose that sense of community that makes a place a home for those who remain.
It’s unfair to these communities for the state to save itself money by closing its facilities, and then leave the locals to deal with the fallout.
That’s why Gov. Kathy Hochul and state officials should listen to representatives of local and state government and advocacy groups like the Adirondack Council, which are pushing for the state to make use of the abandoned Moriah complex to help the area recover from the job losses and at the same time meet unmet needs of the community and the Adirondacks.
Among the proposals put forth earlier this week was using the structure for job training.
One proposal called for it to be turned into an advanced training facility for graduates for jobs relating to the climate change fight.
It could, for instance, be used to further the educational program of students at the nearby Timbuctoo Summer Climate and Careers Institute. The institute brings students, a majority of whom are Black and Latino, from a CUNY program in Brooklyn to the Adirondacks.
Another proposal would turn the facility, which officials say is in great condition, into affordable housing or some other use.
The state doesn’t have to sacrifice communities in order to save money.
It can and should reinvest in those communities, and in turn provide new solutions and opportunities for the people left behind.