Alan Sondheim on 2 Nov 2000 16:35:22 -0000

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

[Nettime-bold] [BRC-NEWS] Building a Boom Behind Bars (fwd)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 2 Nov 2000 03:17:56 -0500
From: Mike Fekula <>
Subject: [BRC-NEWS] Building a Boom Behind Bars

Washington Post

September 8, 2000

Building a Boom Behind Bars

By Lynne Duke, Staff Writer

MALONE, N.Y. -- Mayor Joyce Tavernier and Police Chief
Gerald Moll can't recite chapter and verse about the crime
that rages far, far away, down in New York City. But the
perpetrators of big-city crime have sparked a rural growth
industry here. If crime doesn't pay, punishment certainly
does, at least for isolated small towns like Malone.

"We've benefited from somebody else's mistakes," Moll says
with a shrug.

He is referring to the "mistakes" of about 5,000 convicted
criminals. That's the population of the three state prisons
here, built over the past 14 years during the national
prison construction boom. Fifteen miles from the Canadian
border, in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains,
Malone's prisons have sparked new economic life in this
once-withering Salmon River hamlet that had spent decades 
on the skids.

Call it salvation through incarceration -- a prison-based
development strategy that small towns all over America are
pursuing, and changing economically and culturally because
of it.

Nestled out of sight on a pine-covered plateau that has
become a penal colony just north of the Malone village
center, the prisons have brought new and expanded
businesses, created jobs, broadened the tax base and
bolstered the real estate market. Based on a U.S. Census
count made dramatically higher because of the men behind
bars, Malone stands to gain more in state and federal
dollars than it otherwise would, with one-third of this
town's population of 15,000 being inmates.

Prisons have transformed American small towns from New
York's North Country around Malone to the Colorado plains
and from the Texas panhandle to south Georgia, from the
massive penal colonies of California to the southern coal
fields of eastern Kentucky and the Virginias, where new
prisons are being planned.

It's an old phenomenon that has surged in recent years:
About 200 state and federal prisons have been built in 
small towns across the United States since 1980, and 
fierce competition breaks out when a new prison project is
announced. In Missouri recently, 31 towns competed for one
prison that ultimately was awarded to the town of Licking.
In Arizona, Biga and Buckeye fought in court over which 
town had the right to annex a nearby prison and harvest 
the federal dollars it would bring.

Prison expansion has been "a major source of growth, 
of jobs, of economic development, yet it's almost sort 
of a symbiotic relationship," said Calvin Beale, senior
demographer of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic
Research Service. Beale began researching the small-town
prison phenomenon a decade ago when he and a colleague saw
how dramatically some rural populations had grown because 
of the prison inmate influx.

"Roughly speaking, you'll have 10 jobs for every 30 or so
prisoners," Beale said. "So if you have a prison come in
with 1,400 prisoners, you're probably going to get 400 jobs
out of that, and in a rural setting that's a lot of jobs...
So they welcome these jobs, and they bid for them."

That's what happened in Malone.

"This town has the opportunity, if not to recapture its
past, it has the opportunity to reshape its future," said
Stephen T. Dutton, executive director of the Franklin County
Industrial Development Agency.

But people who are not converts to the salvation of
incarceration speak privately and anecdotally of the
high-stress subculture of the prison guards that has 
begun to infuse the town, including an increase in domestic
troubles. Folks with an appreciation for Malone's 200-year
history of timber, farming, manufacturing and a spell as a
regional rail hub find it difficult to watch the advent of
Malone's new service economy, based on fast-food shops and
discount stores that arrived with or after the prisons.

Others in this virtually all-white town speak of their fear
that prison inmate families -- most of whom are black and
Latino, like an overwhelming majority of the inmates -- 
will begin moving into town, not just coming to visit. That
possibility has some locals on alert when they see a new,
nonwhite face. Independent of one another, three middle-
aged residents volunteered to a reporter that the only 
black person they'd ever known growing up was a local
deaf-mute named "Snowball."

"When you have a small community and suddenly you have that
infiltration from outside, issues of diversity come," said
Moll, who also said there had been no reports of trouble
associated with inmate families. No such families live in
the town, he said.

Mandatory Sentencing

Towns such as Malone are the latest link in the chain of
factors that influence criminal justice policies, experts
say. Here in New York, advocates for reforming what they
call disproportionately harsh sentencing laws said their
efforts are being thwarted by some lawmakers whose small-
town constituents don't want to stop the flow of inmates.

The debate over prison sentences is especially pointed now
in New York, as the push to reform the state's so-called
Rockefeller drug laws gathers steam. Under those laws, in
place since the 1970s, even first-time, nonviolent drug
offenders are subject to 15-year sentences. Some newspapers
have editorialized in favor of reforming drug sentences, and
advocates have pushed the issue. But the state legislature
has not acted.

Reform of mandatory sentencing statutes has been impeded by
"the vested interests that Republican state senators have in
keeping the spigot flowing and keeping the prisoners flowing
into the system," said Robert Gangi, executive director of
the Correctional Association of New York, which co-sponsored
a report released earlier this year on prison placement and
spending in New York. State Sen. Ronald B. Stafford, the
Republican chairman of the Senate Finance Committee whose
district hosts more prisons -- 12 -- than any other in 
the state, did not respond to a request for comment.

New York prison commitments have tripled under the
Rockefeller laws; 62.5 percent of those cases were
nonviolent drug offenders. New York has built 36 prisons
since 1980 and now has 69, most of them in rural areas.

Gangi emphasizes that most of New York's prison expansion
has occurred in Republican districts. But Democrats also
approved the new prisons, and then-Gov. Mario M. Cuomo (D)
kicked off the prison construction boom.

Catch a Falling Star

The boom came to Malone in 1986, after years of decline in
the local economy. Once known as the "Star of the North"
because it was a rail junction and a regional shopping
magnet, the town had lost its Sears, Roebuck and Co. 
store and its J.J. Newberry. Factories were shut or 
had been downsized. Local dairy farms had collapsed.

Mired in hard times on Main Street was the grand old
Flanagan Hotel of regional legend. Mobster "Dutch" Schultz
stayed in the hotel during his 1933 tax evasion trial (moved
to Malone because it was remote), lavishing locals with such
quantities of gifts and liquor that jurors acquitted him and
tried to hoist him on their shoulders. Of Main Street's many
shuttered premises, the Flanagan is the largest.

When prisons emerged as an option for Malone, Molly McKee,
then president of the local Chamber of Commerce, was dismayed.

"If they said we'd get a four-year college campus, I would
have loved that," said McKee, now head of the local prison
advisory board. "I thought: a prison. Ugh."

But soon, realizing the town's desperation, she came to see
it as a "great idea."

McKee and others were concerned that Malone not become
another Dannemora. That town about 40 miles away grew 
up around the Clinton Correctional Facility. And there,
towering over Dannemora's main street, are prison walls 
with shotgun-toting guards standing sentry.

However prison development played out in Malone, said McKee,
"We didn't want it to define the town."

Franklin Correctional opened here in 1986, followed two
years later by Barehill Correctional. Both are medium
security and both, today, have more than 1,700 beds each.
Last year, Upstate Correctional opened just down the road.
It is a "supermax" prison that houses about 1,450 of the
state's worst disciplinary problems in double-bunk cells.

The three prisons brought 1,600 well-paying jobs to Malone.
A third of those prison workers live in the town, the rest
in nearby towns in the same county.

With a total annual payroll of about $67 million, "it
attracts people who think they're gonna get a piece," Dutton
said, reciting a few small firms that have moved to town,
mostly from Canada, including a furniture assembly plant and
a textile firm. And there are new and expanded pharmacies,
discount stores and fast-food outlets. Moll, Tavernier and
McKee think the general prison-inspired upswing has spurred
the expansion of the local hospital, which now has a dialysis 
unit and a cancer treatment center, and the golf course, which 
has doubled in size to 36 holes.

Taken together, the prisons and the new businesses in Malone
in particular and Franklin County in general have dropped
the county unemployment rate to about 7 percent, nearly 
its lowest level since 1975.

But while desperate small-town officials tout the obvious
and proven benefits that prison development can bring,
others bemoan what is being lost: the small-town life, 
the possibility for other kinds of development and local
autonomy. While the town lobbied to get its first two
prisons, the state decided unexpectedly to place the 
third one here. It was not altogether welcome, even 
by staunch advocates of prison development.

"People feel they can't fight it because they feel it's a
done deal," Cindy Durant McNickle, a local activist, said of
prison development in general. "But we do have to stand up
and look very carefully at the institutions that are running
the community." By that she means the state.

Malone Village, which provides water and sewage services for
the new Upstate prison, had to unexpectedly raise water and
sewer rates this year to cover debt service on an expansion
project undertaken to accommodate the prison. The state was
supposed to pay for the project, but had not done so by the
time the town needed to decide on its water and sewer rates.

A village official who criticized some aspects of the prison
expansion here nearly lost his job earlier this year for
speaking out. Boyce Sherwin, Malone's director of community
development, spoke critically in the newspaper Newsday of
the water-sewer rate hike, the pollution of the Salmon River
because of the prison expansion and the general tenor of
life in a town with three prisons.

Outraged residents accused Sherwin of smearing the town and
Mayor Tavernier mounted an investigation. Sherwin kept his
job only through the intervention of other angry citizens
who spoke in his defense. He refused to be quoted for this

Indeed, a variety of people interviewed here spoke only
guardedly about the prisons. Experts on rural America say 
it is common for prison towns to experience more domestic
violence and alcohol problems because of the stress
experienced by prison guards. But Moll, the village 
police chief, said the slight upswing in domestic abuse 
and alcohol-related driving offenses that occurred after 
the first prison opened couldn't necessarily be attributed
to prison stresses.

On a visit to the Pines, a bar between the Franklin and
Barehill prisons, an off-duty prison guard chatted briefly
over a beer about the stresses of the job and its
unpredictability. He stopped talking, however, when 
a higher-ranking corrections official glared at him
disapprovingly. The officer left a short time later, 
telling a reporter, "Watch yourself."

Asked why, he said, "You just have to watch yourself."

Copyright (c) 2000 The Washington Post Company.

[IMPORTANT NOTE: The views and opinions expressed on this
list are solely those of the authors and/or publications,
and do not necessarily represent or reflect the official
political positions of the Black Radical Congress (BRC).
Official BRC statements, position papers, press releases,
action alerts, and announcements are distributed exclusively
via the BRC-PRESS list. As a subscriber to this list, you
have been added to the BRC-PRESS list automatically.]

[Articles on BRC-NEWS may be forwarded and posted on other
mailing lists, as long as the wording/attribution is not altered
in any way. In particular, if there is a reference to a web site
where an article was originally located, do *not* remove that.

Unless stated otherwise, do *not* publish or post the entire
text of any articles on web sites or in print, without getting
*explicit* permission from the article author or copyright holder.
Check the fair use provisions of the copyright law in your country
for details on what you can and can't do.

As a courtesy, we'd appreciate it if you let folks know how to
subscribe to BRC-NEWS, by leaving in the first seven lines of the
signature below.]

BRC-NEWS: Black Radical Congress - General News Articles/Reports
Unsubscribe: <>
Subscribe: <>
Digest: <>
Help: <>
Archive1: <>
Archive2: <>
Archive3: <>
Post: <>
<>  | BRC |  <>

Nettime-bold mailing list