Opinion: Ogdensburg Deputy Mayor tells governor other regions can withstand prison closures better than SLC
Wednesday, May 20, 2020 - 9:56 am

Editor's note: The following letter was sent to Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and shared with North Country This Week as a letter to the editor.

Dear Gov. Andrew Cuomo,

As the Department of Corrections prepares recommendations for you on closing more correctional facilities in New York State, I would like to respectfully ask that you consider the socio-economic conditions of the communities impacted by closures.

As you know, Ogdensburg has two medium-security prisons – Ogdensburg and Riverview.

Ogdensburg and St. Lawrence County are consistently ranked as one of the poorest Counties in the entire State with high poverty rates. It also has unemployment rates that are well above the average for New York State and the Country.

While I understand that these facilities should not be viewed as job creating institutions, the reality is that some correctional facilities are needed and some areas of the State can withstand a prison closure much better than Ogdensburg. Many communities have a much more diverse economies with many private sector employers or other public sector jobs.

Ogdensburg and St. Lawrence County are reeling from years of decline. Ogdensburg has suffered the loss of the Newell Corporation, Standard Shade Roller and the decline of Acco Brands. These corporations provided hundreds of blue collar jobs to residents. Acco, for example, once employed over 500 people in Ogdensburg and now employs just 75. Can you imagine the negative impact this has had on our small community? Similarly, Massena has suffered from the closure of the GM plant and one of its two aluminum smelting plants. They are suffering a serious decline in their St. Lawrence County community as well.

The Federal policies that have allowed manufacturing to move overseas have devastated rural America in general, and Ogdensburg and Massena in particular.

I do not know what the answers are to our socio-economic problems. But I do know that closing one of the prisons is not the answer. So please take into consideration the economic health of a community when deciding which correctional facilities to close.

I had the distinct privilege of shaking hands with your father way back in 1986 when I worked in the State Legislature. I interned there and later worked for several years for Assemblywoman Elizabeth Connelly of Staten Island. Meeting your father was a honor as I admired his leadership. I am sorry for

your loss. My father was one of our local leaders who worked with your father to set up the Ogdensburg Correctional Facility at a time when he was in need. My father was a prominent leader in St. Lawrence County, having severed many years on the Board of Legislators, and later as Chairman of the Board and County Administrator. He also served on the prison advisory board.

My Dad now sits in St. Joseph’s Nursing Home – a victim of Dementia. I talk to him on the phone and see him through the windows of the home, unable to comfort him when he most needs it as he continues to decline in health. Having done nothing wrong, he is by all account a prisoner of the Coronavirus pandemic. So I do sincerely appreciate your outstanding leadership and briefings in these difficult times, and for looking out for the most vulnerable of our State.

The City of Ogdensburg has a proud history of helping those in most need through rehabilitation of those who have committed crimes or those who suffer from mental illness at no fault of their own. We have proudly cared for these people for many years. I do think that the State could do more to help by investing in these facilities when the State’s finances improve. Please send someone up sometime to see the former deteriorating grounds of the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center. It is very unfortunate, and I would be happy to work with someone on an overall plan to improve the conditions and provide even better services to those in need.

Thank you for reading my words, and considering my views as I do my best to articulate the concerns of the residents of Ogdensburg and the greater Ogdensburg community.

Sincerely,

John A. Rishe, deputy mayor

Ogdensburg