The proposed closing of New York state prisons will affect the economies of rural areas where they are located, the New York Times reports. Gov. Eliot Spitzer plans to close three corrections camps and a medium-security prison, all of which have been operating below capacity since 1996 because of a decline in the number of nonviolent felons, said state corrections commissioner Brian Fischer. Fischer said the move would save the state millions of dollars, free up money for the treatment of sex offenders and mentally ill inmates, and finance programs like anger management and vocational training, meant to prepare prisoners for their release.
As rural economies crumbled in the 1980s and the population of prison inmates swelled, largely because of tougher drug laws, states pushed prison construction as an economic escape route of sorts. Throughout the 1960s and '70s, an average of four prisons were built each year in rural America; the rate quadrupled in the 1980s and reached 24 a year in the 1990s, says the federal Agriculture Department's economic research service. The boom provided employment, but it also fostered a cycle of dependency. Depressed rural communities came to rely on the prisons as a source of jobs, economic sustenance and services, with little effort devoted to attracting other viable businesses. The correction industry is big business in Franklin County, N.Y., which has five state prisons and one federal prison in its 1,678 sparsely populated square miles. In the town of Brighton, the prison is one of the only places where someone with a high school diploma can earn a decent wage and benefits.