An article on New York State’s “Camp Monterey” prison by reporter Jeff Murray appeared today, December 17, on the front page of the Elmira Star Gazette. The article notes that declining prison population in NYS, down from 71,000 in 1999 to 54,000 today, makes prison closing possible. Closing Camp Monterey is projected to save NYS 8.4 million annually. That would seem like a good thing, but many don’t agree. For one thing, inmate labor, said to save Schuyler County municipalities $400,000 annually, is valued by local communities.
- State Assemblyman Phil Palmesano claims Monterey “saves the state money, saves local municipalities money, and it saves lives.” The article doesn’t explain how Palmesano reached this conclusion.
- State Senator Tom O’Mara says “we don’t think the savings will justify the loss of services.” Again the article doesn’t explain why O’Mara believes this.
- Assemblyman Chris Friend isn’t quoted, but appears in a picture at a rally with his fellow state legislators.
Governor Cuomo who proposed closing prisons hopes to save the state money. Legislators seem not to object to the state spending unnecessary millions as long it is spent in their districts.
In a Dec 16, 2013 press release, “Reed Lauds Chautauqua Community on NRG Decision,” Tom Reed celebrates a plan to keep the Dunkirk Power Plant open with state financing. Tom writes:
Congressman Tom Reed today gave high praise to the Chautauqua County community on its efforts to keep NRG open and operational in Dunkirk. The Sunday announcement that NRG will repower with natural gas was met with praise from Congressman Reed, local and state officials and Chautauqua County residents who all added their voice in support of repowering.
“The support from the local Chautauqua community is what ultimately made this decision a reality and the victory goes to them,” Congressman Reed said. “The community wrote letters, made phone calls and circulated petitions in what was a loud, unified, cohesive message. They made their voices heard and we have them to thank for the positive outcome. Kudos to the community and kudos to all who accomplished what was a successful team effort.”
Reed weighed in heavily with the Governor’s office, the Public Service Commission (PSC), and National Grid to voice what he and many at the state and local level felt was the necessary path for NRG: repower with natural gas to save jobs, create more jobs, and keep the plant in the community.
While Tom has in the past claimed that refurbishing the Dunkirk Plant will lower electric costs for consumers, he doesn’t repeat that claim in the above press release. Instead we see Tom, like the state legislators, putting political considerations ahead of technical considerations. If prisons and power plants are to be kept open because of political pressure from local communities, it looks like saving the state money isn’t really a priority.
Rather than use inmate labor, we could better use the prison closing savings to hire more people for honest jobs doing the same work. Rather than invest 150 million in a privately owned power plant to help Dunkirk schools, we could better spend the money directly on the schools, not only in Dunkirk, but wherever needed.