MINEVILLE, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Last year, a prison in the Adirondacks was closed after 34 years. Now, it’s empty – and the town encompassing it isn’t the only party calling for that to change.

On Tuesday, the town of Moriah spoke up alongside the Adirondack Council conservation group, calling on Gov. Kathy Hochul to help find a new use for the former Moriah Shock Incarceration Facility, a former corrections facility that treated nonviolent offenders. The facility was closed in 2021 due to a lack of incoming prisoners – a blow that ended over 100 local jobs.

“I’ve got to tell you,” said Moriah Town Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava. “In my wildest dreams, I never thought the facility would close, especially in today’s climate. It was a system that worked.”

That system is less scary than the phrase “shock incarceration” may imply. Established in 1987, the facility served as a minimum-security facility for nonviolent offenders. Every inmate there chose to participate in a program based on physical exercise and community service activities.

Since its closure last year, the facility has sat empty – but maintained. Its three buildings have been maintained, with a security eye kept on them while their future hangs in the balance. The facility is set to be “mothballed” and permanently put aside by the end of the year. The town thinks it can be put to new use, and the Adirondack Council already has ideas.

“Managing our forests and visitors will take people from all over New York, from all kinds of backgrounds and with many different talents,” said Aaron Mair, campaign director of the Adirondack Council’s Forever Adirondacks program. “They will need a place to learn about the Adirondacks and experience the wilderness for themselves. They need to earn the skills
and credentials they will need to be a part of the climate solution.”

What Mair described in Tuesday’s letter is already happening in Newcomb, at the recently-opened Timbuctoo Summer Climate Careers Institute. The institute is a two-week introductory forestry program, named after Essex County’s historic suffrage settlement. When he looks at the former Moriah prison – in the middle of nature, a few miles from the Northway – he sees what could be a second hub for that kind of work.

A hole left behind

The shock incarceration facility’s closure left over 100 residents out work in and around Moriah. Near Port Henry, the town has seen some of the same problems as many Adirondack towns that have gone from boom to something resembling bust. Some families moved out of town after the facility closed, and Scozzafava has seen many former homes become AirBnB rental properties.

Scozzafava has made attempts to get the governor’s attention before now, spending the last year reaching out to her office multiple times to try and get a conversation started around a new purpose for the prison. He feels that the first step has to come with an in-person visit.

In the meantime, he also feels that the prison itself did more good than the closure credits it for. A similar “shock” facility still operates outside of Buffalo, and now takes qualifying inmates from across the state. In Moriah, the supervisor remembers the roots left behind by the inmates who the program changed for the better.

“The program worked. I know the previous governor received hundreds of letters from former inmates who are doing great today,” he said. “It turned their lives around. The inmates did a lot of community service work – not just for Essex County, but an extensive amount for the DEC.”