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July 2, 2011

 

Towns dread prison closure

State to shut Camp Georgetown in Aug. as residents lament loss

LawBob Ellis/staff photographer
Christine Glave, owner of the Red and White Cafe in DeRuyter, rings out lunch customers Ian Ben and Sara Feuerstein at her shop Friday. Glave said her business will be affected by the closure of Camp Georgetown, which is a few miles away.

By SCOTT CONROE
Staff Reporter
GEORGETOWN — Residents of the area where Madison and Chenango counties meet said Friday their communities will feel the impact when Camp Georgetown prison closes about two months from now.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday that he would close four minimum-security prisons and three medium-security prisons to save $72 million in 2011-12 and $112 million in 2012-13.
One of them is Camp Georgetown, the prison work camp on Crumb Hill Road between DeRuyter and South Otselic, a minimum-security facility that would have turned 50 in October.
Business owners in the village of DeRuyter and town of Georgetown said they cannot measure the cost, as local residents lose their jobs, but it will be a blow on several levels.
There is also mystery about how many of the 85 employees will lose their jobs and how many will find openings at other prisons. The state said employees will be able to apply for jobs and it will try to place them as close to the area as it can, although the closest prisons are in Auburn, Moravia and Elmira.
The roughly 100 inmates, males aged in their early 20s, helped to clean streets and set up the annual DeRuyter Firemen’s Field Days in August. Their families spent some money when they came up to visit the young men.
Most of the prison camp’s 85 employees live in the area, including the 60 guards.
People in both communities said they know someone who will be jobless. The pain is greater because the state closed another minimum-security prison camp just to the south, Camp Pharsalia in Chenango County, in July 2009.
“I know one girl who lost her job at Camp Pharsalia, didn’t have a job for a year and a half, then found one at Camp Georgetown — and now this happens,” said Sheila Predmore, owner of Predmore’s General Store in Georgetown, which sells groceries and gas.
“Our state Legislature worries about gays getting married but not about how we’re earning a living,” Predmore said. “That’s their priority.”
She was referring to the Legislature’s passage of a law Friday that allows gays to be married.
Down the road at the Georgetown Post Office, Postmaster Nancy Eastman said the prison camp’s loss will cost her operation in postage and shipping revenue.
She said the volume of mail is large, between inmates and their families and between the prison administration and the state government. She did not have an estimate of how much of the post office’s mail was related to the prison.
“They buy postage for the inmates — we sell about 1,600 stamps every six to eight weeks,” Eastman said, referring to the 44-cent first-class stamps.
She said she knew a guard who lived in the town and had just been transferred to the prison camp from Auburn Correctional Facility and another who had just been transferred from the Utica area. Both had worked downstate after being hired and then had gradually applied for spots at prisons in the area.
Eastman did not think the loss of customers would cause the Postal Service to close the post office.
Camp Georgetown began in October 1961 as a place that combined incarceration for juvenile delinquents with management of state forests through the state Department of Environmental Conservation. The inmates had a lumber operation and made wood furniture.
The prison camp grew and its inmate population changed from teenagers to men ages 21 to 24.
It has 100 inmates, who will be moved to other prisons, said the state Department of Correctional Services. Its capacity is 250 inmates.
The seven prisons to be closed also include Oneida Correctional Facility in Rome.
Cuomo said there are too many empty beds at the state’s prisons, as the crime rate has declined and prisons have proven inefficient in how they operate.
The state Public Employees Federation, the union that includes about 4,500 employees in the state Department of Correctional Services, criticized the closings. The union said Thursday that moving inmates to other facilities will cause crowding and more violence.
Cuomo said communities affected by the closings can request economic development assistance from the state, including a $50 million fund and tax credits, to “help end the reliance on prisons as a major source of employment and economic stability.”
Peter Cutler, spokesman for the Department of Correctional Services, said there could be layoffs but he could not speculate how many.
On a calm, sunny day, business owners in DeRuyter — seven miles west of the prison camp — said they will feel the loss because there will be fewer people passing through and the laid-off employees will have less spending money.
“A lot of the guys go through and get coffee and pastries on the way to work,” said Christine Glave, owner of the Red and White Cafe at the village’s center, where Crumb Hill Road heads into the hills. “But we’ll miss what the inmates do in the community.”
The Big M on Route 13 was bustling Friday as people bought gas, beer and food on their way to DeRuyter Lake or other destinations before the July Fourth weekend. Store Manager Jerry West said he was unsure about the impact of Camp Georgetown’s closing.
“We have customers who are guards or other employees there,” said West, who has worked at the store for 24 years. “We will feel some impact, yes.”
Village Trustee Michael Skeele echoed Glave’s feeling about the loss of inmate labor.
“The inmates do a lot of community service,” Skeele said. “They clean the streets in the spring, clearing away the sand and gravel left when the snow melts. They set up and take down our fire department’s field days, and they help to set up the Ruritan Car Show. The camp really tried to help the community.”

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