Opinion: Legislator disappointed Potsdam councilors lack prison support
Wednesday, March 20, 2019 - 7:19 am

I was very disappointed to read that two Potsdam Town Councilors did not see fit to support their fellow North Country citizens or bother to research the facts about our three state correctional facilities in St. Lawrence County.

Those of us who have been standing up in support of the prisons in St. Lawrence County have made it very clear that these facilities deserve our support because they benefit all the people of New York State as well as St. Lawrence County.

St. Lawrence County's state prisons cost less to operate than prisons downstate, have lower employee injury rates and lower worker comp costs, have higher rates of employee attendance and lower absentee rates, have higher rates of inmate graduation from educational programs, have higher rates of inmate graduation from vocational training programs, have lower rates of inmate on inmate assaults, have lower rates of inmate-officer incidents, have lower staff turnover and enjoy the benefits of an experienced staff who understand how to deescalate incidents, NYS pays extra stipends to its employees at downstate prisons which have much higher turnover among their employees, downstate prisons, like Sing Sing, occupy valuable land that could be easily marketed and sold to benefit the entire state and actually boost their local economies, and NYS has repeatedly shown its inability to redevelop vacant state-owned buildings in Ogdensburg. Closing state facilities in communities like Ogdensburg and Gouverneur would devastate the host communities, hurt the entire county's economy and create long-term problems that would negate any short-term benefits the state might seek to gain.

I have personally visited the prisons in Ogdensburg and Gouverneur on numerous occasions and had opportunities to speak to inmates. They've told me they feel safer here than they do at downstate facilities.

The argument in support of our prisons is simple. We don't believe that our prisons should serve as a "jobs program" or that they should remain open to provide jobs for the sake of jobs. We believe our prisons should remain open because their employees, including correctional officers, teachers and other staff, provide a more cost-effective and valuable service that benefits the entire State of New York.

If New York State wants to reduce costs and save money, it should look at closing facilities that cost more to operate and are less efficient.

New York State should keep open prisons where inmates are safer, employees are safer and more productive and where the state benefits from their efficient operation.

Potsdam residents should keep in mind that it was not too long ago that downstate state legislators looked at closing or merging both SUNY Canton and SUNY Potsdam at various times over the past 40 years.

The residents of Ogdensburg and other communities across St. Lawrence County stood together to defend our two state colleges when they were threatened because we realize they provide tremendous value to people across the state. I know how our communities have stood together to defend our colleges because I wrote the editorials that we published in the Ogdensburg Journal when I served as the managing editor of the Journal and Advance News for over 25 years.

I would call on the members of the Potsdam Town Board to reconsider their votes.

Community leaders across St. Lawrence County, including Ogdensburg, will stand with Potsdam's institutions regardless of what some of their representatives do, but decisions by local elected officials should be based on facts and careful research, not silly slogans repeated by individuals who have not bothered to learn the facts surrounding what they are talking about.

James E. Reagen

St. Lawrence County Legislator, District 1, Ogdensburg