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Lawmakers fight to keep Mt. McGregor open

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Albany/HV: Lawmakers fight to keep Mt. McGregor open
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More than two months after Governor Cuomo announced it would be closing next year, state lawmakers join the fight to keep the Mount McGregor Correctional Facility open. YNN's Matt Hunter has the latest.

WILTON, N.Y. -- "A lot of our colleagues are going to end up being displaced to all parts of the state," said Richard Thomas, Mount McGregor Corrections Officers.

"You become like a close knit family and once it starts to get broken up that way, you know, you kind of feel bad," said Scott Dussault, Mount McGregor Dental Assistant.

For long time employees Richard Thomas and Scott Dussault, July's announcement that Wilton's Mount McGregor Correctional Facility would be one of four to shut down a year later came as an unexpected blow.

Thomas said, "It's going to affect our families, you know, uprooting our children, trying to sell our houses in this economy is tough at this point in time."

"I'm not going to uproot. I've been here for 15 years. Hopefully some opportunity does come my way before July 26," said Dussault.

According to the Department of Corrections, the closure of the four prisons will save taxpayers $30 million annually.

On Wednesday, state lawmakers met with some of the prison's more than 300 employees in hopes of developing a plan to keep the facilities open.

"If you count their families, that's a profound economic impact on the region," said Assemblyman James Tedisco.

"We don't need to close Mount McGregor or the other four facilities and I'll tell you right now, as far as I'm concerned, the Senate conference that I belong to is going to fight this very hard," said State Senator Hugh Farley.

Department of Corrections officials say the space isn't needed due to a 15 percent drop in the statewide crime rate over the past decade, resulting in a smaller prison population. NYSCOPA, which represents the more than 500 guards at the four prisons, believes those numbers are skewed.

"During those times back in 1999, we had inmates stuffed in every nook and cranny, double bunked in gymnasiums, driving around on draft buses with no bed available for them," said NYSCOPBA President Donn Rowe.

Assemblyman Jim Tedisco and Senator Hugh Farley are sponsoring legislation that would require the Governor to include the legislature in the prison closure process.
All employed at the four facilities are hopeful that will result in them keeping their jobs.

Tedisco said, "If we can't get involved directly with the governor allowing us to with a plan of action, we should force it by legislation."

"He's looking at it as a budget he can close and that's it," Thomas said.

"It's not a good feeling again. A lot of people here just can't still believe it's going to close," Dussault said.

Since the closure was announced, Mount McGregor's inmate population has dropped by more than 100. According to the Department of Corrections, 96 percent of the employees from prisons that closed in 2007 remain employed, have retired or resigned.
They say they'll work with employees to find them jobs elsewhere or in other agencies.

The Department of Corrections issued a statement on the potential closure of the four prisons. It reads in part, "New York’s crime rate continues to decline, the inmate population continues to shrink, and taxpayers cannot afford to continue to pay for empty prison beds. This right-sizing of New York’s prison system reflects this reality, while with a goal of avoiding layoffs, by assisting each employee in transferring into positions at other facilities that are geographically as close as possible to their current work locations.”

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