The medium-security prison facility in Wilton that employs more than 300 people will be closed next year in a round of upstate closures announced Friday afternoon by the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.
Mt. McGregor Correctional Facility is one of four facilities that will be closed in response to the state’s declining prison population. The closures are expected to save the state $30 million annually. According to a state news release, Mt. McGregor currently employs 320 people and has an inmate population of 455, with a maximum capacity of 544 inmates.
The official closure date is set for July 26, 2014. The one-year notice is designed to allow a gradual transition that could potentially give time for affected employees to find new positions in the department or with other state agencies. The state billed the closure plan as one that would prevent layoffs.
State Sen. Kathy Marchione, R-Halfmoon, whose district includes Wilton, said the state needs to ensure it follows through on its commitments to the affected employees. She called for the adoption and implementation of an action plan.
The announcement represents the final nail in the coffin at Mt. McGregor, where the threat of closure has been looming for years, said Wilton Town Supervisor Art Johnson.
The minimum-security portion of the prison, Camp McGregor, closed in the summer of 2009. At the time of its closure, the 300-bed facility had only 49 inmates and had been repeatedly threatened with closure.
Johnson said he and local state legislators had defended McGregor from closure in recent years. “Obviously it is a disappointment,” he said of the planned closure. “It has been on the chopping block for a couple different occasions, so it’s not a complete surprise.”
Anthony J. Annucci, acting commissioner of the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, said in a news release that the closures are part of an ongoing attempt to “right size” the state’s prison system in the face of a declining inmate population.
“We are continuing to right size the state’s costly prison system and saving taxpayers tens of millions of dollars annually,” he said. “This reform plan was made with careful consideration and detailed analysis to ensure we are not impacting the safety of each facility’s employees and the public.”
Annucci added that the closures will not affect staff at other prisons or the inmate population. He said the closures will not prompt any early releases of inmates or double-bunking situations.
Don Rowe, president of the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association, which represents the prison guards, rejected the idea that there are empty beds around the state to house the approximately 1,000 inmates that will need to be moved because of the four closures.
“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,” Rowe said in a news release. “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.”
The decision to undertake this round of prison closures was not done as part of the budget process, which is how closures are traditionally handled, according to Assemblyman Tony Jordan, R-Jackson, whose district includes Wilton. He described the announcement from the state on Friday as another example of an “executive fiat” from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Because the state Legislature was not involved in the process, he said there were still a lot of questions about the decision, including whether it was final. “He often tries to legislate through press release,” Jordan said of the governor.
Johnson plans to spend the next year working with local state legislators, including Jordan and Marchione, to prevent the closure, which could adversely affect prison employees and the local economy, he said. “I’m not going to give up,” he said.
Following the closure of the minimum security facility in 2009, Johnson noted that some employees found work at another state prison in the region — Great Meadow Correctional Facility in Comstock, a 45-minute drive northeast — and he hopes similar arrangements can be made in this case. For employees who will have to relocate for new jobs, he said, “It’s going to be tough. It’s never easy for families to have to move.”
Jordan said the full year’s notice was a smart move, as it should give affected employees and the local community time to prepare for a future without the prison.
If the closure does happen, Johnson hopes the site doesn’t go unused, like Camp McGregor, which has been dormant since it was vacated. He suggested maybe a veterans hospital could be located at the medium-security facility.
Marchione added that a long-term economic development plan for communities affected by the closures, like Wilton, should be a major priority of the state when it moves ahead with a prison closure.
The news release from the state says that McGregor used to house a significant number of drug offenders, but the decline in imprisoned drug offenders means the facility isn’t serving the same purpose that it did in the past.
Also set for closure next year is the Monterey Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility in Schuyler County, a minimum-security camp, and two medium-security prisons: Butler Correctional Facility in Wayne County and Chateaugay Correctional Facility in Franklin County.