Prison closing hurts Madison County's waste program

The Camp Georgetown administration building / photo: Andy Wolf

C amp Georgetown, on the southern edge of Madison County, is a minimum security prison. It has the capacity for 262 non-violent offenders, but currently houses only about 100. Nevertheless, it still employs 85 people at an annual cost to taxpayers of $6.5 million.

G overnor Andrew Cuomo has decided to shut down Camp Georgetown, along with six other prisons statewide. The move came as a surprise to Madison County officials, who say the inmates there have made their solid waste program a big success.

T he director of the county's Solid Waste Program, James Zecca, told CNY Central's Jim Kenyon that for the past 19 years Madison County has had an agreement with the Department of Corrections. Zecca pointed out that Camp Georgetown would supply inmates to recycle scrap metal at the county's landfill. In exchange the county would dispose of the prison's trash for free.

Z ecca says arrangement has far greater benefits for both taxpayers and the prisoners. He says the sale of scrap metal produces more than $150,000 in revenue, which is used to cut the taxpayer cost of operating the landfill. Plus, Zecca says the prisoners learn valuable skills.

" I believe it's a really big mistake (to close Camp Georgetown)" Zecca said. "W ith the type of work they're doing , t hese inmates are learning various trades . T hey're learning the work ethic itself instead of sitting in a jail and absolutely contributing nothing."

On Thursday, during a stop in Watertown, the Governor defended his decision to close the prisons. "We had to close facilities we didn't need basically. we have excess capacity in state prisons," Cuomo told reporters. But the Governor said he also intended to provide "economic development on those sites and to bring back jobs, but we have to close prisons."

Meanwhile, Jim Zecca says he's been in touch with the Madison County Sheriff's Office about the possibility of using jail inmates to separate scrap metal. Z ecca says he's been told the remaining inmates at the Camp Georgetown will be moved to other facilities by the end of next week.

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