Union fights closures,
consolidation of state prison camps, youth facilities
By DARCY WELLS
You couldn’t miss the brightly colored PEF scarves at rally after rally to
protest state prison camp closures announced by Gov. Eliot Spitzer and the
state Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) in January.
It was a show of unity after members stood up to be heard on how the
proposal would affect their futures.
Similar concerns over job security were felt at half a dozen facilities
operated by the state Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) as the
governor and OCFS announced it’s closing or consolidating six residential
“We are deeply concerned about the announced closures,” said PEF President
Ken Brynien. “We understand state leaders are faced with difficult fiscal
times and have tough decisions to make. But closing prison camps that
already rely on the dangerous practice of double bunking is not the answer.
And closing youth facilities may result in young people being placed in
privately operated programs that are not always able to address their needs,
resulting in greater recidivism and higher costs.”
Within days of the prison closures announcement, rallies that resembled town
hall meetings took place.
One of the first was held at the Harrietstown Town Hall in Saranac Lake to
protest the planned closing of Camp Gabriels.
“The turnout was very impressive,” said Tom Donahue, PEF labor-management
chair at DOCS. “It was standing room only. Everyone including state
lawmakers, village mayors and town council leaders, approached the mic to
protest the closing. Their reasons varied from the negative impact the
closing would have on the town to concern from employees who worry about
where they’ll be working next,” he said.
Similar rallies were held at Camp McGregor in Saratoga County, Camp
Pharsalia in Chenango County and Hudson Correctional Facility in Columbia
County, which have all been targeted for closure.
DOCS has committed to working with PEF to find positions for the displaced
employees, but for some relocating can be a hardship.
“We were able to secure in writing a guarantee from DOCS that should the
prisons remain open and one of our members had accepted a transfer, they
will have the option of returning to the facility,” Donahue added.
In February, PEF Secretary-Treasurer Arlea Igoe testified at a joint hearing
of the state Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees on the
proposed closures and consolidation.
Questions from lawmakers focused on plans for the youth facilities.
“If the state wants to cut recidivism, it should improve the teacher-student
and counselor-youth ratios in OCFS facilities, not close them down,” Igoe
The state has proposed closing the Adirondack Wilderness Challenge in
Clinton County, Auburn Residential Center in Cayuga County, Brace
Residential Center in Delaware County, Gloversville Group Home in Fulton
County, Great Valley Residential Center in Cattaraugus County and the
Pyramid Reception Center in the Bronx.
PEFs Executive Board Member Ron Greene is the union’s labor management chair
“Approximately 1,000 OCFS-placed youths receive services in private,
not-for-profit agencies each year,” Greene said.
“Nearly one-third of them are returned to OCFS facilities for treatment each
year,” he said.
“The demand to open beds for youths returned from private programs causes
OCFS youths to be discharged before they are ready to be returned to their
communities, and this contributes to the high recidivism rate,” Geene added.
Members who work in OCFS facilities have been lobbying their local
legislators to keep the youth centers open.
Fighting the closure proposals at DOCS and OCFS are among the top state
budget priorities for PEF and will be at the top of the list as members and
leaders lobby legislators in March.
PEF Secretary Treasurer Arlea Igoe testifies at a hearing
on the proposed closures with PEF Legislative Director Brian Curran by her side.
— Photo by John Epting
UNITED FRONT – PEF members wearing union scarves stand out at a packed rally
in Saranac Lake opposing the closure of Camp Gabriels.
— Photo by Darcy Wells