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For sale, must see: Former prison in upstate New York

40 ha of grounds with 98,000 square feet of space spread over 30 buildings at minimum bid of US$100,000

Chateaugay Correctional Facility will be sold by New York state at auction on July 24, almost exactly four years to the day after it closed.

New York

FOR SALE: 99 acres (40 ha) located 90 minutes from Montreal with 98,000 square feet of space spread over 30 buildings. Amenities include kitchens with walk-in freezers, a dining hall and a back-up diesel generator.

The property, a former New York prison called Chateaugay Correctional Facility, is being sold by the state at auction. Closed since 2014 because of declining incarceration rates, the former prison will be auctioned on July 24 at the Chateaugay Town Hall, almost exactly four years to the day after it closed. The minimum bid is US$100,000.

There is no guarantee that there will be a buyer for the prison, which opened in 1990. A previous effort by a warehouse distributor to buy the property fell through more than a year ago. While state officials hailed the closed prison as the product of efforts to reduce mass incarceration, local officials raised concerns about the effect on employment.

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"We lost 101 good jobs when it closed," said Don Bilow, supervisor of the town of Chateaugay, which is about 320 km north of Albany. "We hope a viable entity will buy it and create some economic activity."

The medium-security prison is one of 13 that the state has closed since Governor Andrew Cuomo took office in 2011. Since 1999, the state's prison population has declined 30 per cent, to approximately 45,500 inmates.

The decrease of 5,500 prison beds has saved the state US$162 million per year, the governor's chief counsel, Alphonso David, said last Saturday. The changes mean that people are getting the help that they need to deal with drug problems or find work instead of being sent back to prison, he said. "It can't be that the prison-industrial complex serves as the economic engines for our communities," he added. "That can't be the answer."

A sustained drop in violent crime and changes in policing in New York City, along with the 2009 repeal of the state's Rockefeller drug laws, which imposed mandatory minimum sentences for even low-level offenders, resulted in a decrease in the number of inmates, many of whom were minorities. The policies that kept prisons full were discriminatory, criminal justice reform experts said.

"It's the beginning of substantial declines in our state prison population," said Judith Greene, founding director of Justice Strategies, a nonpartisan nonprofit policy research group focused on mass incarceration. "I don't see us switching gears any time soon."

As at last April, New York had sold only three of its 13 prisons that had closed since 2011. Only one, the former Mid-Orange Correctional Facility in Warwick in the Hudson Valley, had found a new use - as an office park.

Chateaugay is a rural town in the North Country with about 2,000 residents. The median income is about US$40,000 a year. Nearly 28 per cent of the residents are below the federal poverty level - almost double the percentage for the state overall, according to the census.

The prison, which had 234 inmates, helped the economy, said Assemblyman Billy Jones, a Democrat, who is a former corrections officer and a past mayor of Chateaugay.

"We were a large agriculture area at one time," he said. "When dairy farming decreased in the late 1980s or early 1990s, a lot of people found jobs in these prisons. To see them closing, it's hard on our economy."

Mr Jones said that while he understood the changes to the drug laws, he believed that the prison should have remained open because it was among the newer medium-security facilities, and it also provided a place for parole violators to get counselling. "There has been no real, good plan when these facilities shutter," he said. NYTIMES