Leaders advocate for reuse of Moriah Shock buildings
By Tim Rowland
Rural lawmakers and green groups came together this week asking the state to make good use of a sprawling former prison in Moriah that they fear will go to seed if left unoccupied.
“The state has a very poor track record when it comes to closing correctional facilities,” said State Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury. He spoke at a press conference at the entryway to the former Moriah Shock Incarceration Facility. “There are all kinds of superior options to padlocking this facility.”
In particular, representatives of the Adirondack Council and Adirondack Mountain Club said the sprawling metal buildings could be rehabbed into workforce housing and climate-science training, two areas for which there is particular need.
State and local elected leaders said they could support such plans. They indicated that almost any re-use, including a return to inmate housing and rehabilitation, would be welcome.
The Moriah community was dismayed last year when the state announced plans to close the facility. The fenceless, boot-camp styled rehabilitation center could hold 300 prisoners. The program focused on intense structure, substance-abuse treatment, community service, artistic expression and job training.
Moriah Shock recruited prisoners with the greatest chance of success, and recidivism among its graduates was far less than at a typical prison. This should have overjoyed reform-minded liberals in Albany, Stec said, but Moriah Shock was closed as the inmate population dwindled.
Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava said the prison saw its numbers wane because the state stopped sending inmates. Those who agreed to participate in the shock program received significantly reduced prison terms.
“Moriah Shock was a huge part of the community for 30 years,” Scozzafava said. “When you lose 100 jobs it’s significant in a community of 5,000 people.”
New life for Moriah
Aaron Mair, “Forever Adirondacks” director for the Adirondack Council, said there is no shortage of work to be done as the changing climate accentuates the importance of the park. But there is a shortage of workers. Scientists need to be trained, recreation jobs filled, trail crews housed. “A whole host of uses” for the complex come to mind that would make it an asset to the park, Mair said.
Housing in particular is threatening the park’s potential across all segments of the economy, said Julia Goren, executive deputy director of the Adirondack Mountain Club. “We can’t welcome people (to the Adirondacks) because we don’t have the workforce and we don’t have the workforce because we don’t have housing,” she said.
The sprawling shock unit was refashioned out of old mining buildings. Prisons sprouted up throughout the Adirondacks after a steep decline in lumbering, mines and paper mills.
That led to criticism that the state was stoking prisons with Black and Hispanic convicts from urban areas as a way of providing paychecks to white upstate families. North Country prisons began to close. Despite state promises to find new uses for these prisons, facilities decayed.
“We’ve seen this over and over in too many communities,” said Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay Lake. “The communities welcomed these facilities with open arms, and the state should be obligated to (provide) a purposeful reuse.”
Scozzafava said the complex is in “pristine” condition. The state has at least agreed to keep the heat on. A state commission is currently studying potential uses and is expected to release a report soon, Stec said.
Local officials hope it’s more than lip service. They are not encouraged by Gabriels, Chateaugay, Lyon Mountain and other former prison sites that are now eyesores.
Rocci Aguirre, deputy director of the Adirondack Council, said a transformation of Moriah Shock could be both practical and symbolic. A center for climate leadership would be “a legacy project redefining what it means to protect communities,” he said. “A legacy of incarceration could become a welcoming legacy of hope, renewal and opportunity.”
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