Pubdate: Sun, 23 Apr 2000
Source: Ogdensburg Journal/Advance News (NY)
Copyright: 2000 St. Lawrence County Newspapers Corp.
Address: P.O. Box 409, Ogdensburg, New York 13669
Author: Robert Merkin
NOTE: Accepts LTEs by mail only! Must be signed w/phone#


When I read your editorial "Racism and Prisons" (3 April) with its
strident defense of building prisons in Ogdensburg, it wasn't
difficult to get you message: "This is no one's business but ours,
keep out and shut up."

That's just the editorial writer's opinion.  I have utterly no reason
to believe it mirrors the whole community's feelings about building
new prisons in Ogdensburg.  What the editorial clearly reflects is an
implied threat to those, in or out of Ogdensburg, who have different

The eitorial's notion that these new prisons are needed to imprison
"drug dealers" is a deception and a corruption of language.  Under the
Rockefeller mandatory sentencing laws, non-violent addicts, those who
just possessed personal amounts of prohibited substances, and domestic
partners who were "traded" to prosecutors for reduced sentences now
make up a huge percentage of New York's prisoners.  It's common
courthouse knowledge that murderers and rapists will be walking our
streets sooner than those sentenced under the Rockefeller laws.  What
do you lose sleep over more, a neighborhood rapist or a neighborhood
pot smoker?

Of the racism issue, all any Ogdensburg resident needs to do is surf
the web or consult the library or an almanac to find out how the
Rockefeller drug laws fill the state's prisons with dramatically
disproportionate numbers of African-Americans and Hispanic Americans. 
If you say, "Well, they're the ones breaking the law!"  I say, "Police
enforce the laws for more aggressively and with far less
accountability in non-white neighborhoods than they do in white
suburbs and rural areas.  And minorities have far less access to
good(expensive)defense lawyers."

But your editorial's ironclad promise that new prisons will do great
things for Ogdensburg has been addressed carefully in a recent Newsday
article, "The Town that Loved Prisons Pays a Very Stiff Price" (10
April) about rural Malone, New York.  Anyone can read it by clicking
to Newsday's Internet site:

Here's the assessment of Malone's three state prisons from Boyce Sherwin,
director of Malone's Office of Community Development:
"Did we get seven hundred fifty jobs?  We didn't get a hundred." (The
prison guard seniority system gave the vast majority of jobs to
out-of-towners.)  A hoped-for food processing plant to serve the prisons
hasn't materialized, and a $4.5 million expansion of the sewage-treatment
plant, paid for by the state to accommodate the new prison, has increased
the amount of nitrates that are dumped on daily basis into the Salmon River.

Because the loans to build the sewage plant and a new water system for
the prison were based on the village's borrowing capacity, not the
state's, taxes have gone up and the payments will be more than $1
milion this year, Sherwin said.

I wish the same good things and the same prosperity for Ogdensburg
that I wish for my own community.  So do a growing number of New York
State residents, who are sincerely convinced more and more prisons
won't get them for Ogdensburg.

No one needs to agree.  But every citizen of Ogdensburg
Journal-Advance News should contribute to the debate, not try to silence it.

Robert Merkin
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