Moriah Shock: Not your standard prison

moriah shock rally to save the prison
Rally to show support for Moriah Shock Incarceration Facility was held Sunday, Nov. 28. Gov. Kathy Hochul has announced that the prison would be closing March 10. Tim Rowland photo

By Tom Scozzafava

As supervisor of the town of Moriah for over three decades, I couldn’t believe when I heard that Moriah Shock Incarceration Facility would be closing.

I appreciate and understand the fact that the inmate population in New York has declined, and that it would be fiscally prudent to close prisons that are no longer needed. However, Moriah Shock is a far cry from your standard prison.

I worked at Moriah Shock for four years in the late 1990s as an electrician and know the program. I witnessed firsthand how it changed thousands of men’s lives for the better.

In 2010, Moriah Shock was on the hit list to close, but after some state senators and Assembly members learned about the program and visited the facility, it was decided to keep it open. Then-Sen. Ruth Thompson of Mount Vernon decided to tour the facility at the request of our then-Sen. Betty Little of Queensbury. I also was included in that visit, and Thompson was so impressed with the program that she helped convince Gov. David Paterson to put Moriah Shock back in the budget.

I was supervisor when Moriah Shock opened, and lobbied for a correctional facility in our community to help our economically depressed area. Gov. Mario Cuomo was convinced that Moriah, in the heart of the Adirondack Park, would make a good location.

The economic impact that this facility has had on our area has been tremendous, but this is about the program in itself.

Thousands of men have turned their lives around because of Moriah Shock and the staff that has worked with them through the years. Instead of spending three months in a real prison, a six-month sentence at Moriah Shock includes alcohol and substance abuse treatment, school every day toward a high school equivalency diploma, and development of a strong work ethic, self-discipline and accountability for one’s actions.

Hundreds of letters regarding Moriah Shock have been sent to Gov. Kathy Hochul, many from former and current inmates, asking that she reconsider her position on this closure.

Our community is the sixth most populated in the six-million-acre Adirondack Park, and Moriah is defined by Moriah Shock in a positive way.

Please take the time to research this facility and watch “Jail Without Walls” on YouTube; you will see that this program and facility should not be called a “prison” but a place where young men can once again gain some hope and return to a productive life. Acting Commissioner Anthony Annucci has attested to the success of this program, and the millions it has saved taxpayers through the years.

Yes, Moriah needs this facility to remain open, as do hundreds of men who also may need this program in the future.

To ship inmates across New York to Lakeview, a prison with barbed wire fencing and a concrete jungle, when you have Moriah Shock just up the road in one of the most beautiful settings in the state is, in my opinion, a mistake.

We need Hochul to reconsider this closure, and I ask that with the greatest of respect for her and with understanding of the position she is in.

Tom Scozzafava is the town supervisor of Moriah. This first appeared in the (Albany) Times Union and is reprinted by permission.

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  1. Worth Gretter says

    “Instead of spending three months in a real prison, a six-month sentence at Moriah Shock includes alcohol and substance abuse treatment…”
    I think that is three YEARS. not three MONTHS, in a regular prison.
    A shortened sentence is the incentive for inmates to opt for Moriah Shock instead of regular prison. In return, they commit to a very intense program.

  2. Vanessa B says

    It’s good to see this published and I appreciate the perspective.

    That said, I think even the author is highlighting the main issue that keeps some of us from trusting what seems like a really sudden interest in the philosophy that prisons should be places for reform and recovery, not exclusively punitive.

    The biggest prison advocates tend to really, really avoid language like this article and instead constantly hammer the public with “tough on crime” rhetoric that is dehumanizing and provokes fear. Any of us concerned with prisoner welfare are “soft,” or obviously want to endanger our communities. :(. I get tired as hec of this, and since certain political leaders have embraced the big lie, all the rhetoric has gotten worse and worse and worse.

    But whoops, all of the sudden it’s our economic lifeline in our town, and we’re all liberal reformers.

    That said – I totally get that this prison’s model may be different and worth preserving. Appreciate the history regarding it. Commit fully to a philosophy that considers humanization, prisoner well being, and the well-established social science behind what actually helps people participate in society in a healthy way – then, and only then, will I happily wave a sign at your rally.

    But for now, I have the most trust in all of the people who have for years been talking about prison reform, and who for years have recognized that prisons are not a reliable jobs program. The state gets a lot wrong in policy and in execution, but putting less people in jail when they could be supported in their own communities is 100% right.

    • Joan Grabe says

      We have already tried treating people in their communities instead of mental hospitals – community centers were established but people did not voluntarily turn up for treatment or even medications. Many of the people who are homeless today have severe mental health issues and would at least have a bed, meals and treatment in a hospital setting. I can envision the same scenario with closing prisons – these are convicted criminals probably able to game the system and not adhere to the protocols established for community care. That said, Moriah was and is a great program with excellent results – I wish it could continue.

  3. Devon Harper says

    In the spring on 2003 I was a one of the inmates at Moriah. Almost 20 years later I am now a photographer. Aside from a few tickets not a single arrest or offense my biggest regret was I never got to thank the staff but the lessons learned there I follow to this day

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