City urges Hochul not to close Ogdensburg prison

The Ogdensburg Correctional Facility is one of six state prisons slated to be closed in March. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

OGDENSBURG — Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul has been sent a letter signed by more than a dozen state legislators who want to discuss the decision to close six correctional facilities across New York and why they believe the prisons should remain open.

The letter was signed by lawmakers from across the state, including Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, and several other leaders representing parts of the north country.

“We believe that before such drastic action is taken, we deserve the opportunity to have a meaningful discussion on what these closures will mean for the communities where the prisons are located and the state as a whole,” the letter, dated Dec. 3, reads.

In November, the state announced that six state correctional facilities would be closed, including Ogdensburg Correctional Facility in St. Lawrence County and the Moriah Shock Incarceration Facility in Essex County. OCF is slated to close in March of 2022, and some correctional officers have already been reassigned to other prisons across the state.

The letter states that the decision will have a “far-reaching, negative impact on the communities where these prisons exist and the state as a whole.”

“From further damaging already economically fragile parts of our state to putting the safety of the incarcerated and those who work in facilities at greater risk, there are countless reasons why these prisons should remain open,” the lawmakers wrote.

Highlighted in the letter were some reasons the prisons should not be closed.

The letter stated that there have been more than 1,022 assaults on corrections staff and that the closures will result in more than 1,200 incarcerated individuals being sent to other facilities.

“Concentration of the incarcerated population into fewer prisons will do little to address the uptick in violence and likely will only exacerbate it. In addition, it is also worth noting that facilities you have decided to close — like Ogdensburg Correctional Facility and Moriah Shock Incarceration Facility — have low numbers of violent incidents, when compared to other facilities,” the letter reads.

The letter also pushed that now is not the time to combine prisons with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the new Omicron coronavirus variant recently recorded in New York.

“Your closures will pack more than 1,200 incarcerated individuals and nearly 1,500 corrections staff members into other facilities and will undoubtedly put people at greater risk of contracting COVID-19. For nearly two years now, we have all worked hard to stop the spread of this deadly illness. That is especially true of our frontline workers, including correctional officers and staff, who have worked consistently through the pandemic. It is highly irresponsible to put these people, as well as the incarcerated at greater risk,” the letter reads.

Also addressed in the letter is the economic impact the closures might have on the north country.

“It’s no secret that the North Country — where Ogdensburg Correctional Facility and Moriah Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility exist — struggle economically when compared to other parts of our state. In the North Country, jobs at New York State prisons are some of the only well-paying employment opportunities available,” the letter reads. “Ogdensburg’s economy is on life support and ripping away 268 more jobs by closing Ogdensburg Correctional Facility will only further devastate the community.”

The letter ended by describing the opportunities lost from unique programs that would be gone with the closures, such as the end of the garden program at OCF that helps provide more than 40,000 pounds of fresh produce daily to people in need; work release programs at Moriah Shock that assist the state Department of Environmental Conservation with trail work, setting up boat launches and opening campgrounds, among other opportunities.

“It is for these reasons that we respectfully ask you to reverse, or at the very least, pause your decision to shutter the six correctional facilities slated for closure. Closing these prisons will have a significant, negative impact on the safety of the incarcerated and corrections staff, will put public health at risk and take a devastating economic toll on the regions where these facilities exist,” the letter reads.

In addition to Sen. Ritchie, the letter was signed by Senate Minority Leader Robert G. Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, and several state senators, including Daniel G. Stec, R-Queensbury, and Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome.

Assemblymembers representing parts of the north country also signed: Assembly Minority Leader William A. Barclay, R-Pulaski; Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River; Robert J. Smullen, R-Meco; and Mark C. Walczyk, R-Watertown.

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