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What you need to know for 04/23/2017

Mount McGregor prison prepares to close

Mount McGregor prison prepares to close

At the close of business Saturday, the state prison that inmates sometimes called ‘Magic Mountain’ w
Mount McGregor prison prepares to close
An aerial view of Mount McGregor correctional facility campus, courtesy of the New York state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

At the close of business Saturday, the state prison that inmates sometimes called ‘Magic Mountain’ will cease operations.

Its prisoners have been gone since April, and the last of Mount McGregor Correctional Facility’s employees will leave today — one year after Gov. Andrew Cuomo slated it for closure. Only a pair of workers will remain at the sprawling 86-acre facility starting next week, so the medium-security prison can be gradually mothballed.

A spokesman for the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision said all of the prison’s equipment — everything from vehicles to office desks — is being offered to other correctional facilities. Any remaining items will become part of state surplus property.

The land and all 71 buildings around the prison will fall to the Empire State Development Corp., which will try to sell it or seek a new tenant for the mountaintop site. The prison straddles the towns of Moreau and Wilton.

Moreau town Supervisor Preston Jenkins said the closure, first announced in July 2013, is still a tough blow to absorb for the town, which lacks a major employer. As recently as last year, Mount McGregor employed upward of 320 people — a number of whom lived in Moreau.

“Nobody wants to lose those kind of jobs when we don’t have a lot of job options,” he said.

But there’s hope the state will find a new use for the property that will bring prosperity to the mountaintop and the surrounding area. Recently, at least two prospective tenants toured the facility and local officials are hoping to capitalize on some of the $32 million in state funding earmarked to help redevelop the three prisons Cuomo ordered shut last year.

There’s also anticipation the vast swath of the estimated 1,110 acres owned by the state surrounding the prison could soon come under the auspices of the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Jenkins said the land is contiguous to the southwest end of Moreau State Park and could add considerably to its trail network.

“We’re hoping something else very positive will happen there,” he said of the mountain.

Any plan for the site will have to incorporate the historic cottage where former Civil War general and President Ulysses S. Grant lived out his days during the late 19th century. Located a short distance from the prison, Grant’s cottage is a historic site only accessible by the road leading to Mount McGregor.

Originally a resort established by Duncan McGregor in 1878, the property was transferred to financier Joseph William Drexel, who built the opulent Hotel Balmoral — a destination that even included a private railroad to the top of the mountain.

The hotel burned in 1897, and the property was purchased several decades later by the Metropolitan Insurance Co., which financed a tuberculosis treatment center.

The state purchased the land in 1945 to use as a rest camp for World War II veterans and later converted it into the Wilton Developmental Center, a facility serving the developmentally disabled. But with the Rockefeller-era drug laws and a steady increase in the inmate population, the state handed the property to the Department of Corrections, which opened a minimum-security camp in 1976 and then added a medium-security prison in 1981.

Mount McGregor had 882 beds and 439 workers by the late 1990s. The new millennium, however, brought a declining crime rate and a shift in philosophy in which the state focused its efforts on moving non-violent inmates into drug treatment, “shock” incarceration and other early-release programs.

Starting in 2001, the prison found itself at the center of an effort to downsize its prison population and close portions of the facility.

Local state legislators played tug-of-war with the governor’s office over closing portions of the prison until 2009, when then-Gov. David Paterson and legislative leaders agreed to close the 300-bed minimum-security prison known as Camp McGregor in order to close a $14 billion budget gap.

The remaining medium-security prison followed a similar path. Legislators staved off a closure effort in 2011, only to have Cuomo order the facility shut two years later.

Michael Powers, president of the New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association Inc., did not respond to a request for comment on the closure.

State Sen. Kathy Marchione, R-Halfmoon, was disappointed the closure couldn’t be prevented and blasted state leaders for not taking a harder look at keeping Mount McGregor open.

“Mount McGregor Correctional Facility’s closure is a genuine loss to the community,” she said in an email Friday. “My thoughts are with the dedicated, hard-working public safety professionals and their families, who were directly impacted by the closure.”

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