Lawmakers try to quell jail closure fears

SARANAC LAKE - A pair of state lawmakers were at the Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce legislative breakfast Friday, Jan. 7, covering a wide range of topics during an hour-long question and answer session.

Among the issues discussed was the topic of the possibility that local corrections facilities could again be the target of closures under the new administration of New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo.

"I don't believe so, no," state Sen. Elizabeth "Betty" O.C. Little said when asked if a facility like the Moriah Shock Prison could be on the block again this year after a victorious fight by local lawmakers and private citizens to keep the site open in 2010.

"I think that you have to look at the buildings that house these facilities," Little said to the assembled crowd in the Connector Building at North Country Community College. "These buildings would be of more value someplace else where there are more people and private businesses that could use these building for industry. Up here, there are really no other uses for the buildings and when a building is empty, it starts to deteriorate."

Little said she felt the message of local lawmakers was sent loud and clear to Albany in 2010.

"I think that we made a lot of headway in Albany with why prisons are such an important part of the local economy," Little said. "It may be a good idea to cut costs by closing prisons in other areas, but we are not a one size fits all state."

State assemblywoman Janet Duprey said she disagreed with the notion that prisoners, especially juvenile offenders, should serve their sentences closer to where they live.

"Last time I checked, prison is supposed to be a punishment," Duprey said. "Putting them closer to home makes it more likely that contraband will make its way into the system."

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