Big changes are coming to one of New York's state prisons. The Adirondack Correctional Facility in Ray Brook - between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake - will be converted into a prison for 16- and 17-year-old offenders. Opening in fall 2018, the newly revamped facility comes after the Cuomo administration pushed to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility to 18.
The news comes from Glen Falls State Sen. Betty Little, but state prison officials have declined to talk about it. They have not responded to repeated requests for information about how this transformation will work or exactly what the new facility will look like.
The change represents a fundamental transformation of one of our state prisons. This medium security prison will now be remade into a facility that specifically houses and serves 16- and 17-year-olds.
The New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association, the prison guard union, does not believe this will directly affect jobs, but it will mean a big mission shift.
Until last year, New York State was one of only two states in the country - along with North Carolina - that locked up 16- and 17-year-old inmates in adult prisons alongside adult offenders. There were some horror stories about how that played out. Gov. Andrew Cuomo joined the effort to make the age of full legal responsibility 18 rather than 16.
Now that it has happened, the state budget includes money to create new housing facilities for these younger offenders. It looks like Ray Brook will be part of the new infrastructure for that, likely with more things like education, drug and alcohol treatment and other forms of counseling designed to rehabilitate.
Chateaugay Assemblymember Billy Jones told the Adirondack Daily Enterprise that he would have preferred to see one of the area's mothballed prisons used for this purpose - maybe Chateaugay or Gabriels - rather than re-purpose Ray Brook. However, the Cuomo administration seems unwilling to reopen closed prisons.
Another expected debate will be over the idea of putting these young offenders in what will be, for many families, a remote location. This is a huge issue for inmate advocacy groups.
They say housing all inmates hundreds of miles away is bad policy. Moving teenagers to a place like Ray Brook, which is difficult for these teenagers' families to reach, is expected to spark some pushback.