Assemblywoman Russell in Letter to Governor: Keep Ogdensburg Correctional Facility Open

February 4, 2010
Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell (D-Theresa) sent a letter to the governor explaining why his initiative to close the Ogdensburg Correctional Facility is wrong. Assemblywoman Russell sites false repair claims, overpopulation of the prison system, ripple effects on the local economy, and the continued success of the Ogdensburg Correctional Facility as reasons for the facility to be removed from the closure list.

“In the early 1980’s when the state needed to add capacity to the corrections system Ogdensburg welcomed the facility,” Assemblywoman Russell said. “Other areas of the state fought the location of a prison in their community. A few years later Ogdensburg welcomed a second facility, Riverview Correctional Facility. The location of the two facilities in Ogdensburg and the three others within the hub has resulted in hundreds of North Country residents becoming state correction officers. Corrections has deep roots in this area. It is a slap in the face to the history of this area to recommend so many closures in this region without targeting even one downstate facility.”

Russell cited numerous reasons why closing the facility is a bad decision for the state, and for the future of the area. Her arguments included:
  • Prison is needed to house the number of inmates in the state: According to the Department of Corrections Inmate Population Breakdown Report there are currently 4,000 double-bunked beds. Even further, maximum security prisons are currently at 121.7% capacity and medium security at 94.5% capacity.

  • Success of the Ogdensburg facility: At the Ogdensburg facility there are rare inmate on inmate incidents as well as inmate on staff incidents. The facility runs smoothly and repeatedly scores high on their regular inspections.

  • Lower operating costs than other facilities: Ogdensburg Correctional receives FREE steam heat based on a 25 year contract that the state’s Office of Mental Health has with a private facility located on the psychiatric center’s grounds. They are currently working with OMH to make changes to their contract so that they can expand their operation to generate 26 MW of power from biomass, creating approximately 50 permanent new green jobs.

  • Cut costs elsewhere: Reducing the administrative staff at the Department of Corrections could save $15 million, not replacing the hot water boiler house in the facility because there is no need could save $9.4 million, and finding shared services within the Watertown Hub can achieve further cost savings.


Grassroots efforts are currently taking place in Ogdensburg and surrounding communities to keep the prison open. Assemblywoman Russell has requested a meeting with the governor to explain why closing the facility would do more harm than good for the state. “I want to thank all those who rallied with me, signed petitions, and written letters. The governor will hear our message loud and clear: the time of balancing the budget on the backs of the hard working families in the North Country is over,” Russell concluded.

Below is Assemblywoman Russell’s letter.



February 2, 2010


Governor David A. Paterson
Capitol
Albany, NY 12248

Re: Proposed closure of Ogdensburg Correctional Facility

Dear Governor Paterson:

I respectfully request that you remove the proposed closure of the Ogdensburg Correctional Facility by April 2011 from your proposed 2010-2011 budget during the 30 day amendment period. I do not feel that the state will be well served by closing this facility and its closure will have a devastating effect on the City of Ogdensburg and the North Country.

In the early 1980’s when the state needed to add capacity to the corrections system Ogdensburg welcomed the facility, especially given that they were facing the downsizing of the state operated St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center. Other areas of the state fought the location of a prison in their community. A few years later Ogdensburg welcomed a second facility, Riverview Correctional Facility. The location of two facilities in Ogdensburg and the three others within the hub has resulted in hundreds of North Country residents becoming state correction officers. The correction officers at Ogdensburg and the other four Watertown Hub facilities are all North Country residents. Further, hundreds of correction officers working at other facilities throughout the state are North Country residents, putting in their time until they have enough seniority to transfer back to the Watertown Hub.

The direct economic loss to Ogdensburg as calculated in your proposed budget is at least $22 Million of the $23.9 Million in operating expenses, which is attributable to employee compensation. The loss of $22 Million in compensation will be extremely devastating to the North Country economy. However, that is only a fraction of the direct compensation loss because those hundreds of North Country correction officers hoping to transfer back up north will likely abandon their efforts and permanently leave the area, taking their compensation elsewhere. The impact on the property tax base compounded with the crushing loss of dollars and benefits that are pumped into the local economy will ravage Ogdensburg and St. Lawrence County.

There will be little state savings related to salary expenses by closing the facility. Correction officers will not lose their jobs, instead they will be reassigned to other facilities and professional staff will have the same experience. They will not be looking for other work locally such as in the green jobs sector. They will uproot their families to finish out the roughly five to ten years most of them have left and will retire elsewhere, possible even out of state.

The proposed budget also asserts that there will be $12,431,000 in five year capital cost avoidance. Of that figure, $9,431,000 is designated for replacing the hot water boiler house. This proposed capital project is baffling. There is no need for a new boiler house. In fact the facility receives FREE steam heat based on a 25 year contract that the state’s Office of Mental Health has with a private facility located on the psychiatric center’s grounds. There are nine years left on that contract and that private facility is actually trying to work with OMH to make changes to their contract so that they can expand their operation to generate 26 MW of power from biomass, creating approximately 50 permanent new green jobs. The proposed upgrade of the perimeter closed circuit television system for $800,000 is not an immediate need, nor is the $200,000 rehabilitation of the Flower Building basement. The upgrade of the shower controls for $300,000 should actually pay for itself in reduced water consumption. The estimated capital cost avoidance is a theoretical and remotely possible savings.

Another compelling argument against closing the Ogdensburg facility is the impact this closure will have on the security staff and inmate population. Throughout our state’s correctional facilities there are 4000 double-bunked beds. The Ogdensburg Correctional Facility has double bunked inmates just like other facilities. Dormitories are designed for fifty inmates. Ten of those beds have become bunk beds (double bunked), so a dormitory unit now houses up to sixty inmates. The closure of the Ogdensburg facility will exacerbate this problem. Even when factoring in Department of Corrections projections of a reduced inmate population, there will still be double bunking and the closure of the Ogdensburg facility and other medium security facilities will max out the current double bunks and require further double bunking. Double bunking dormitory style facilities presents increased risk to correction officers and essentially warehouses inmates. The state has been working to get away from the warehousing of inmates that occurred in the past within the Department of Corrections. We are finally seeing the numbers of inmates that our facilities are designed to hold and the proposed closures will only mandate further warehousing.

The Ogdensburg facility is the type of facility we should keep open. Ogdensburg is a model of the kind of facility the state has been working to achieve through recent reform measures. At the Ogdensburg facility there are rare inmate on inmate incidents as well as inmate on staff incidents. The facility runs smoothly and repeatedly scores high on their regular inspections. While I understand there are concerns about the distance family members must travel to visit an inmate in Ogdensburg, the fact that there is minimal violence and inmates have an environment conducive to making progress in their rehabilitation and educational programs surely out weigh those inconveniences.

The state will not be well served by closing the Ogdensburg Correctional Facility. If closed the actual cost savings will be minimal to the state, other facilities will be forced to warehouse inmates at unsafe levels, undermining rehabilitation efforts and a community that has always been a good partner with the state will be devastated. The state would be better served by reducing the amount of administrative staff at the Department of Corrections. While the inmate population has decreased markedly in the past decade, the amount of administrative staff, particularly in Building 2 at the Harriman Campus in Albany has exploded, essentially doubling in size. Cutting staff in Building 2 by twenty percent (20%) would immediately save the state roughly $15 Million in salary and benefit expenses. Those 180 jobs can be more easily absorbed in Albany than they can be in Ogdensburg.

I have been receiving emails and letters of support to keep the Ogdensburg facility open since the presentation of your proposed 2010–2011 budget. They are increasing in volume daily. The St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators has appointed an ad hoc committee and the City of Ogdensburg a task force to address the closure. Dozens of people attended a press conference I held on the matter last week and hundreds of people attended a public rally last Friday to support keeping the facility open. Thousands more North Country residents have signed petitions to keep the facility open. The community support to keep the Ogdensburg Correctional Facility open has been strong from the beginning and is only increasing in strength.

Thank you for your courteous consideration of my request. I would like the opportunity to meet or speak with you to discuss this critical issue further. I can be reached on non-session days at (315) 786-0284 and during session days at (518) 455-5545.

Sincerely,
Addie J. Russell
Member of Assembly
118th “River” District