Shame on prison-protecting pols

 col_hdr_louis

Shame on prison-protecting pols

Sunday, January 20th 2008, 4:00 AM

With startling clarity, an attempt by Gov. Spitzer to close unneeded prisons has laid bare the workings of New York’s prison industrial complex and the fact that some people – and even whole communities – have a perverse financial stake in keeping penal institutions open and filled.

Where many of us see prisons as places of sadness and misery – and yes, justice – a handful of special interest groups and upstate politicians see them as a source of jobs and the extra political clout that comes from adding thousands of "residents" to an otherwise sparsely populated area.

Spitzer and his Correctional Services commissioner, Brian Fischer, are trying to save state money – an estimated $44 million over the next two years, plus another $30 million in construction and repair costs – by shutting down four medium- and minimum-security prisons.

The prisons aren’t needed – many are half-empty – because New York’s inmate count has dropped by 13% over the last eight years, from 71,600 in 1999 to less than 62,500 today.

That should be good news – a sign, perhaps, that years of investing billions of tax dollars in fighting crime, social programs and education have finally paid off, and some of that money can be spent on other critical needs.

But not everyone sees it that way.

On Thursday, a rally at Harrietstown Town Hall in Saranac Lake has been planned to demand that Spitzer come up with funding to stop the closing of Camp Gabriels, a minimum-security facility that Fischer says is half empty with 187 inmates.

"We hope to send a message to the governor and get the money put back in the budget," said Chris Hansen, whose title is "northern region business agent" for the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association, which represents prison guards.

Jeff Leavitt, a member of the Brighton Town Council, told PressRepublican.com, a local news organization, that a study showed prison work crews put in 104,525 hours worth of "community service" cleaning and repairing upstate roads. That spared Brighton and other towns roughly $855,204 worth of minimum wages, according to Leavitt – roughly twice the $478,000 Brighton spends on its general and highway funds.

"And that’s just labor," Leavitt said. "A lot of these jobs won’t get done, because the towns can’t afford to do it."

In another local perk, the prison’s 187 inmates, counted as area residents, allow Brighton to get extra emergency-service money from state and federal sources. They also count for the purposes of drawing state and federal district lines. No, 187 people alone may not sound like that many people – but the numbers add up, so the prison is politically valuable.

This madness must end.

I’m terribly sad that Brighton might have to clean its own roads instead of having prisoners do the work for them.

I understand why upstate pols might enjoy the luxury of having a state-funded captive population of people who bring extra emergency funds but can’t vote on how a nickel of it gets spent.

And I get why a prison union’s business agent would fight to keep what amounts to make-work jobs at a mostly empty facility.

But none of that is a reason to keep a prison open.

This game has been going on for years. "We’ve got a little history on our side," Hansen told the Adirondack Enterprise newspaper. "We have successfully staved off the closing of correctional facilities in other areas of the state."

Enough. Downstate advocates of prison reentry – a policy of redirecting public resources to schools, housing, jobs and recreation programs instead of prison – need to get fired up and jump into this debate.

Above all, Spitzer and Fischer need to hold firm and make clear that the last thing upstate’s ailing economy needs is a fiscally and morally bankrupt policy of keeping prisons open when they aren’t needed.

elouis@nydailynews.com

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CaptJanks Jan 20, 2008 7:38:13 AM Report Offensive Post
upstate ny is a vast wasteland. w/o govt jobs, there’s not much to do. upstate w/o nyc’s money would be west virginia or mississippi. besides all the policies that have created the worst business climate in the nation, ny has bad weather. nobody stays up there except through inertia. instead of closing prisons, they should rent out the excess capacity to states/countries that need a place to put their miscreants. make it a business; lots of places do. i don’t recall, did you rail against excess hospital beds downstate. did you see pols rushing to close hospitals when the hosp. closing commission rec. the closings? anybody want to step on 1199’s toes? same nonsense at work here. especially now that we’re heading into a recession; why put people out of work. besides if the econ. worsens we’ll need more prison capacity to put the crooks who turn to stealing to support their former llifestyles. doesn’t it tell you something about upstate when the only way to increase pop. th

jamesgala Jan 20, 2008 10:49:08 AM Report Offensive Post
Dear Mr. Lewis, I believe you have written the one of themost important articles in the last thirty years. As a retired Private Detective who worked in the "criminal justice" system, I can only reiterate the detective’s maxim: "follow the money". Why doesn’t ANY politician point out that we have more of our citizens rotting in prisons -most for non-violent and what used to be called "victimless" crimes- than any other country in the world, including the ostensibly repressive communist regime in China which has four times our population? That our mass media discusses the plight of whales, dolphins and seals with sad music playing on their soundtracks while millions of sentient human beings are rotting in cages because some state senator built a prison in a depressed area of his state so his constituents there can have jobs as "corrections officers", because they lost their manufacturing jobs. Unfortunately, in order to fill these prisons, they need prisoners, so we crea

jamesgala Jan 20, 2008 11:25:28 AM Report Offensive Post
As a retired private detective who worked exclusively our criminal justice system, I know the score: “follow the money." Why doesn’t ANY politician point out that we have more of our citizens rotting in prisons -most for non-violent and what used to be called "victimless" crimes- than any other country in the world, including the ostensibly repressive communist regime in China which has four times our population? That our mass broadcast media discusses the plight of whales, dolphins and seals with sad music playing on their soundtracks while millions of sentient human beings are rotting in cages because some state senator built a prison in a depressed area of his state so his constituents there can have jobs as "corrections officers", because they lost their manufacturing jobs. Unfortunately, in order to fill these prisons, they need prisoners, so we create them by criminalizing what used to be civil torts (e.g. someone who fails to make a court appearance on a traffic violation

arizonarick Jan 20, 2008 12:03:47 PM Report Offensive Post
this columnist finally has written something that makes sense. while our presidential candidates are arguing over amnesty for illegal aliens, how about talking about amnesty for prison inmates, many of whom are serving long sentences for relatively minor crimes. we need more rehabilitation programs and less prison time. and, yes, like mr. louis says, we need to close some of our prisons and use that money we will save on things that build up communities, and not tear them down. that includes more libraries, more recreation for kids and adults, more running trails and more of everything that could make a great nation even greater as we go into the 21st century.

TerryONeillEsq Jan 20, 2008 12:08:21 PM Report Offensive Post
The Republican Party in New York had best wake up to this issue. Battling to keep unneeded prisons open is not in its interest. In years to come, public dollars now spent on corrections will be shifted to inmate re-entry programming. The GOP should be figuring out how to lasso this issue.

Sabbetai Tzvi Jan 21, 2008 6:42:20 AM Report Offensive Post
We are going to need these prisons open. All the years that we have had a low crime rate was because we sentence the criminals longer time. When they get out the chances of them comitting more crime is high and not only that the younger generation are indoctrinated in thuggery, what their popular culture enspouse. We must prepare ourselves.

jlh1rrisr Jan 21, 2008 7:15:29 PM Report Offensive Post
Mr. Louis, When will the media begin to share with truth, honor and integrity the facts with people of color instead of continuing the: MEDIA Mind MANIPULATION and SO What do you expect? Given the state of Black America or even America as a whole, Dr. King must be turning over in his grave. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vuBo4E77ZXo Clearly there is a lack of clarity, knowledge, wisdom, or understanding when allowing others to provide a dualistic ideology of self and his/her surrounding, causing him/her to believe that that he/she is something that he/she is not but what do you expect? To raise your child[ren] where black females’ obvious desire is to emulate white women and males coveting a jailhouse slave mentality with the belief that this is a way of life, what do you expect? However, there are issues far more important such as, the First Commandment with a Promise seen and felt daily which most Blacks believing themselves to be some so-called African-Americans t

jlh1rrisr Jan 21, 2008 7:17:47 PM Report Offensive Post
Mr. Louis, When will the media begin to share with truth, honor and integrity the facts with people of color instead of continuing the: MEDIA Mind MANIPULATION and SO What do you expect? Given the state of Black America or even America as a whole, Dr. King must be turning over in his grave. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vuBo4E77ZXo Clearly there is a lack of clarity, knowledge, wisdom, or understanding when allowing others to provide a dualistic ideology of self and his/her surrounding, causing him/her to believe that he/she is something that he/she is not but what do you expect? To raise your child[ren] where black females’ obvious desire is to emulate white women and males coveting a jailhouse slave mentality with the belief that this is a way of life, what do you expect? However, there are issues far more important such as, the First Commandment with a Promise seen and felt daily which most Blacks believing themselves to be some so-called African-Americans

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