Advocates for reuse of Moriah prison dejected over State Police training site choice

inmates at moriah shock
Inmates at Moriah Shock in 2018. Photo by Tim Rowland

Local officials said governor had discussed the potential for the former Adirondack shock facility to become auxiliary academy

By Brendan J. Lyons, Times Union

Several North Country officials assailed Gov. Kathy Hochul’s announcement this week that the State Police will lease space at a recently closed private college in central New York to house a new auxiliary academy rather than reusing the vacant Moriah Shock Incarceration Facility along the banks of Lake Champlain in Essex County.

The town of Moriah is still reeling from the closure of the sprawling facility 16 months ago — it was one of six state-run correctional facilities that were closed last year. More than 100 staff members had worked at the facility, which had about 75 inmates at the time it closed but had the capacity to hold 300.

State Assemblyman Matt Simpson, whose district includes Essex County, said the Moriah facility has modern amenities and its layout — it does not have prison walls or fencing — is more suited to be easily transformed into a training facility.

“It just doesn’t make fiscal sense to me, unless there’s some overarching reason why that facility wouldn’t work,” Simpson said. “It’s not prison-like. There was no fence. There’s no cells. It’s just an institutional facility that was built for that (shock) program. … You don’t have a residential neighborhood right next to it. You don’t have general population that you would have to be concerned about. It’s close to the Northway.”

Simpson said he supports the efforts to improve the recruitment efforts of the State Police and expand their academy training, but he and other officials said the abandonment of a facility that is owned by the state and can’t be sold without a constitutional amendment has been a serious blow to the small community.

“What’s more important to me is the state making wise decisions, especially with the fact they had many employees there, state employees with good-paying jobs, in a perfectly modern facility and they left without a plan,” Simpson said.

But the recent closure of Cazenovia College, due to financial problems and sinking enrollment, also was a blow to that community in rural Madison County south of Syracuse.

Hochul said the additional auxiliary academy at Cazenovia College is part of a plan to fund two additional State Police classes using $66 million that had been allocated in the recent budget.

“We have traveled across the state over the last seven months, and explored multiple locations, and we feel the Cazenovia College campus provides a central location within New York and is best suited to meet the needs of our Basic School training, acting State Police Supt. Steven A. Nigrelli said. Paul Smith’s College in Franklin County was also in the running.

Moriah town Supervisor Tom Scozzafava said he and other Essex County officials attended an event in Schroon Lake a few weeks ago with Hochul and she had discussed the potential for the Moriah facility to become the State Police’s new auxiliary academy. But he learned that was no longer the plan when the governor’s office announced Wednesday that the state would lease space at Cazenovia College.

A spokesman for the governor’s office did not immediately respond to questions Thursday about the North Country officials’ disappointment with the selection. The governor’s office referred questions about the price and terms of the lease with Cazenovia College to the State Police, who declined to provide that public information upon request.

Essex County officials had hoped the vacant Moriah Shock Correctional Facility near Lake Champlain would be used by the State Police for a new auxiliary academy.
Photo by Pete DeMola, Times Union

The Moriah Shock Correctional Facility near Lake Champlain was closed by the state in 2022. Photo by Pete DeMola, Times Union

“The only thing it can be used for is another state agency unless there is a constitutional amendment,” Scozzafava said. “I feel like we have no representation up here in the Adirondacks any longer. … We’ve been trying to get an audience with the governor … (but) you can’t get through that barrier.”

Essex County Chairman Shaun Gillilland said local officials were concerned when the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision began removing large amounts of equipment and office supplies from the facility last year. He said they kept urging the agency to reuse the facility and “not gut it.”

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