Reality of Closure Settles in at Butler

    By on July 9, 2014
    • James MacDonald, Butler Correctional Officer and Chief Steward of the New York State Corrections Officers and Police Benevolent Association, is reflective about efforts to save Butler Correctional Facility.

    Despite the signs still standing that urge saving Butler Correctional Facility, the closing date, July 26, is growing near.

    The coming closure has changed the lives and routines of those at the prison.

    No inmates remain, and the focus now is on sorting things like vehicles, desks and chairs. These will be offered to other New York State correctional facilities. Items other prisons don’t want will become part of state surplus property. A security firm has been retained to monitor the facility once it shuts down.

    Only 40 employees remained at the prison as June 30, according to the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS).

    This compares to a much different set of statistics from one year ago, when DOCCS reported there were 130 staff at Butler, and 177 inmates.

    It was one year ago – July 26, 2013 – that DOCCS announced the closure of four state prisons: one minimum security facility, Monterey Shock (Schuyler County), and three medium security facilities: Chateaugay (Franklin County), Mt. McGregor (Saratoga County), and Butler.

    The clock has been ticking ever since that announcement.

    “We’re getting close to the end of it, I guess,” said James MacDonald, Butler Correctional Officer and Chief Steward of the New York State Corrections Officers and Police Benevolent Association. “We weren’t successful in keeping the place open, so what are you going to do?”

    He expects the spirits of the remaining employees to slip once the finality of the closure sinks in.

    “It’s not too bad now,” MacDonald said of morale among prison employees. “People have accepted the fact that we are closing. But it will start hitting during closure week when they clear out their lockers and they realize they’re not going to be back at this facility. I think that’s when it’s really going to hit home.”

    It’s already hit home for many. DOCCS reports 91 people have transferred to other DOCCS facilities, other agencies, or resigned.

    New Job, New Commute

    MacDonald is one of the lucky ones. He has landed another job within DOCCS. He will start his new position at Mohawk Correctional Facility in Oneida County the day after Butler closes. He’ll be a corrections officer there, though he doesn’t yet know the details of his new job.

    He will make the one hour and 15 minute commute from his Hannibal home each day. He doesn’t drive one of those high gas mileage vehicles. He’ll stick with his truck, which he said gets about 18 miles per gallon on the highway. There will be lots of gas station stops in his future.

    Despite those two and a half hour daily commutes, he hopes to continue teaching criminal justice at Cayuga Community College.

    MacDonald, who has spent a tension-filled year trying to rally support for the prison, reflects about the role area leaders played in trying to keep the facility open.

    “They say they care about the employees and the situation at hand, yet I don’t see it,” he said.

    Drugs Dilemma

    One of the official reasons for closing Butler is what the state called the dramatic reduction in drug offenders, resulting in shrinking prison populations.

    Yet the state legislature passed a package of bills during its 2014 session to fight what the politicians call the heroin epidemic.

    “All of these measures were a result of legislative recommendations first proposed by the New York State Senate Joint Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction, of which I am the Vice Chairman. These measures focus on providing additional resources for the prevention of drug abuse and the treatment of those addicted, while giving law enforcement officials the tools they need to prosecute criminals who are spreading heroin in our local communities,” Sen. Michael Nozzolio said in earlier remarks about the heroin measures.

    MacDonald notes that Butler is – at least until July 26 – an alcohol and substance abuse treatment center, and he wonders if money saved by closing Butler (the state projects a $30 million annual savings with the closure of the four prisons) will instead be spent implementing the new heroin laws.

    “We now have heroin problems and meth labs skyrocketing, and they are closing these facilities,” MacDonald said. “The question is, why?”

    MacDonald wonders if, in the future, county governments will have to take on more expense to combat drug abuse – putting offenders behind bars, or developing more programs to help people overcome their drug abuse problems.

    Smoke and Mirrors

    He’s a little tired of what he calls the smoke and mirrors of politics, and hopes area leaders aren’t just giving the public lip service regarding what will become of Butler Correctional Facility after it closes.

    “It’s like throwing a major corporation out to the wolves,” he said. “Until you bring in industry, the poverty rate will keep on rising and rising. Do you think people really want to grow up on public assistance?”

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