Prison annex slated for closure
By Jeanne Sager
WOODBOURNE State budget woes will take a second chunk out of Sullivan Correctional, just as the county economy resettles from the loss of the prison farm.
Workers at the annex at Sullivan, a free-standing section on the prison campus that serves a minimum security population, learned late last week that all but one annex in the state correctionals system is slated for closure.
This week they got a date.
That gives 45 officers six months to learn whether they will be moved to the main building at Sullivan which houses a maximum security population or shipped out to other prisons.
They’ve been told they’ll keep their jobs, but it’s all based on seniority. If an officer at the annex has more time in than an officer at Sullivan proper, the latter will be moved out.
But as much as the future of their jobs is concerning the officers, they’re also looking outward to expected devastating affects on the community.
The end of the annex means the end of the community work crews that leave the prison five days a week to paint town halls and fix up churches.
It means no more prisoners will leave Sullivan to help the DEC stock trout in the rivers, to start seeds for Sullivan Renaissance or unload trucks at the Food Bank in Monticello.
“There are so many things that these crews do that just aren’t going to get done,” said Gary Dahlman, a corrections officer at the annex who serves as assistant chief of the CO’s union, NYSCOPBA.
Things like painting the interior of the Delaware Youth Center’s hall three times in the last 18 years, as high up as the ceiling tiles.
“The contracting costs . . . we never would have been painted if we had to contract it out,” said the Callicoon non-profit’s president, Tess McBeath. “We have enough money to run our program and that’s it.”
For the Roscoe Methodist Church it wasn’t just the money saved, but the fact that a group of able-bodied people would do the work.
“We have an elderly congregation or people work all the time,” said Linda Cortright, who oversaw five months of work by the prisoners at the Methodist Church.
The prisoners came in, primed and painted the entire church, spackled and put up wainscotting, even attacked the work that needed to be done in the parsonage.
“It was a positive, positive experience,” Cortright said. “They did a beautiful job.”
And the prisoners were a joy to work with their crew leader was intelligent and quick with ideas for the church to improve things, all were respectful of church volunteers and their accompanying chaperone from the prison.
“This was not only a positive experience for us, but a positive experience for them,” Cortright noted.
It’s what makes working in the annex a pleasant job for the corrections officers. As Dahlman says, corrections is not generally “a highly fulfilling job.”
Working at the annex is.
The prisoners are helping people, the corrections officers are getting involved with the population, teaching them skills and making a difference in the community as a whole.
“I believe it reduces recidivism,” McBeath said. “They’re out there helping people and it makes you feel good when you’ve done something to help people.”
They’ve helped the taxpayers too. In places like the Town of Delaware, where they painted the town hall and did general maintenance, and Roscoe, where they’ve been painting the firehouse, the price of hiring a contractor is taken off of the backs of the taxpayers.
But all that free labor has to come from somewhere, and New York State Department of Corrections Spokesman Erik Kriss said the state simply can’t sustain the costs.
“We have to cut back like everybody else,” Kriss said. “That’s state taxpayers picking up the tab.”
Each crew costs an estimated $60,000 a year for the state to send out, Kriss said, and because the labor is provided free of charge to municipalities and civic groups, there is no revenue stream to offset that cost.
“Are we happy about this? No,” Kriss said. “But we need to find efficiencies, and everybody’s got to do their part.”
But residents say the prison has to do its part too, and the help provided to offset taxpayer funds in the local municipalities is invaluable.
“It saves us money, it saves the taxpayers money,” Delaware Supervisor Jim Scheutzow said of the work prisoners have done in his township.
Petitions are circulating the county in an attempt to stop the closure.