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New York Prison Towns Frustrated Over Lost Funds After Governor Closes Facilities

The upstate New York region of Mohawk Valley lost a major source of revenue in the summer of 2011 after Governor Andrew Cuomo announced he was shutting down prisons in several counties and putting the properties up for sale. Now leaders in those prison-dependent communities are whining about tax dollars they say the state should have directed for the projects they wanted.

When seven prisons were closed statewide, Cuomo announced a $50-million pool would be provided for the affected communities. Three of those prisons—the Oneida Correctional Facility in Rome; Camp Georgetown in Madison County; and the Schoharie County prison—are all located in the Mohawk Valley, where $25 million of the pool had been allocated as of May 2012.

Many Mohawk Valley officials and politicians are angry, however, that the state didn't fund their proposals—projects that further subsidize the incarceration industry on which they've come to rely.

In Madison County, for example, the board of supervisors proposed that a portion of Camp Georgetown—a work camp for minimum-security prisoners that employed more than 50 people—should be used to house prisoners that couldn't be jammed into the county jail. According to John Becker, chairman of the board of supervisors, Camp Georgetown had also generated interest from private companies. The state, however, never bit on his proposal.

"Why have a facility sit there and go to waste?" Becker said. "Give it to the county and get it on the tax rolls."

Instead, the money became part of $62 million in awards for the Mohawk Valley as part of a statewide Regional Economic Development Council process. The winning projects that were funded include $15 million for the State University of New York's (SUNY) nanotechnology complex and $10 million for a computer chip fabrication plant, both within just 15 miles of the Oneida prison (a requirement for the prison grant)—a clear signal that Cuomo, who has said that incarceration is "not an employment program," intends to rightfully supplant the prison industry in New York with education and jobs.

"Local officials were familiar with this process since the regional councils were launched," Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto wrote in an e-mail. "If communities still want to seek additional funds, there is still $20 million available."

Source: Utica Observer-Dispatch


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