Dozens of North Country communities breathed sighs of relief Thursday because none of the region's prisons were included on Gov. Andrew Cuomo's list of pending closures.
Cuomo included $72 million in savings in the 2011-12 state budget and anticipated a $112 million reduction in 2012-13 through the elimination of at least 3,500 beds within the state prison system.
In the North Country, prisons provide thousands of jobs and many local and state officials warned of the crippling effects a local closure could have.
"They (state officials) realize the importance that the facility has on our local economy," said Tom Scozzafava, supervisor of the town of Moriah, moments after the closure list became public. "The shock program saves the state millions of dollars."
Moriah Shock, a boot camp-style facility, was tagged for closure last year, but was spared after widespread lobbying by Essex County officials and the region's state legislators. It employs more than 100 people in the tiny Adirondack community. Recent changes to the state's drug laws have resulted in a greater emphasis on shock rehabilitation.
Seven prisons - Buffalo Work Release, Camp Georgetown in Madison County, Summit Shock in Schoharie County, Fulton Work Release in Bronx County, Arthur Kill in Richmond County, Mid-Orange in Orange County and Oneida in Oneida County - are listed for closure in the coming months. Cuomo's plan will reduce the state prison system's carrying capacity by 3,800 beds.
State Sen. Elizabeth Little, R-Queensbury, represents one of New York's most prison-heavy regions across her six-county district. Little's district includes 10 state prisons and a single federal facility, representing nearly 5,000 jobs.
She praised the governor's focus on a prison's relative economic impact on a community and its potential resale value.
"It's very good news for the North Country," the five-term Republican said. "The governor understands that we need more private sector development before we can stop relying on government jobs."
The "upstate prison industry" has been a theme of downstate lawmakers for years, especially since many of the inmates come from the New York metropolitan area.
While lobbying to save the prisons in her district, Little noted that recently shuttered facilities, like Camp Gabriels in Franklin County, remain vacant. The state Office of General Services has twice in the last year unsuccessfully tried to auction off the former prison.
Little notes that downstate prisons, like Arthur Kill in Staten Island, will be a much easier sell in the private sector than those in rural communities and their closure will have a smaller effect on local unemployment lines.
Other local officials had concerns that what remains of the Mt. McGregor Correctional Facility in Saratoga County would be on the chopping block. Last year, the prison's minimum-security area was shuttered. But the 100 jobs at its medium-security prison survived Thursday's announcement.
"It's one of those mixed blessings," said Assemblyman Tony Jordan, R-Jackson. "I'm relieved for our folks but it means others are experiencing layoffs."
Upstate Republicans and the New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association, the union that represents 23,000 state prison guards, argued that savings could be found without closing prisons.
Cuomo argues that many of the state's prisons are half-full, as the inmate population has declined 22 percent since 1999.
The union characterizes the closures as a public safety hazard.
"Today's announcement represents the largest single closing in the state's history and we are obviously very concerned with the impacts and implementation of these closures," said the union's president, Donn Rowe, in a release.
The association argues that while minimum and medium-security inmate populations have declined, the maximum-security pool has increased well above the state's capacity.