Should Governor Cuomo Close Sing Sing Prison?

J Philip Faranda April 8, 2011

Sing Sing to close? Wednesday’s Journal News has a front page story on Ossining politicians urging Andrew Cuomo to close Sing Sing Prison. As a native of Ossining who worked a block away in a neighborhood market for years while in school, the idea gets my attention. Would closing Sing Sing make sense? Would it benefit Ossining? 

It is an intriguing thought. Sing Sing has been there since the early 1800’s. It employs 824 people. It is a piece of history. But it is also a product of a bygone era when putting prisons, landfills and nuclear power plants on prive riverfront real estate wasn’t viewed as a bad idea. And when Sing Sing was built, it was considered to be in a distant and sparsly populated area. It is now in the middle of the village of Ossining. 

Ossining loses $500,000 in taxes because of the exemptions on government -owned Sing Sing. I don’t know anyone who is excited to have a maximum security prison in town, and that includes me. Few if any of the 800+ employees live in Ossining. From that point of view, and the tax angle, it does not contribute to the Ossining economy. 

I used to work counter at Southside Market on Spring Street about a block from Sing Sing. Most of the prison guards as they were known then (they are now referred to as correction officers) did not  live locally. Most COs lived out of the county, and their only contribution to local commerce was a pack a cigarettes and the sandwich I made for them. I suspect that little has changed. No CO lives near me to my knowledge. 

If a new prison were to be built today, it is inconceivable that they would choose prime waterfront property in a dynamic suburban village for the location. If this is the way they want to reboot the prison system, I say close the thing and let Ossining benefit. Develop the bulk of the land to make the highest and best use of waterfont property and turn the original, smaller cell block into a museum. That will ease the tax burden on the rest of us and give us new neighbors. In as much as I like to have fun with my proximity to the Big House, I’m all for it being a memory. 

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