Posts Tagged ‘David Carlucci’

Local Pols Asleep at the Wheel

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

 By Michael Kaufman 

If the imminent shutdown of the Mid-Orange Correctional Facility in Warwick is any indication, one would be hard pressed to find a less effective group of local elected officials in the State of New York than those representing the citizens of the Town of Warwick. The list of culprits includes Assemblywoman Annie Rabbitt and State Senator David Carlucci, as well as Town Supervisor Michael Sweeton.  

Rabbitt’s first reaction was to assure the 300-plus employees that she had Governor Cuomo’s word that no one at the facility would lose his or her job. Sweeton was quick to suggest that the closing of the prison might be a good thing because it is located in an area that is ideal for development. Carlucci, the lone Democrat in the bunch, is a newcomer to Albany and still lacks the clout to bend the governor’s ear. In contrast, Senator John J. Bonacic, an influential Republican whose district includes parts of Orange County, was successful in keeping the prison in his district open despite his opposition to the historic legislation legalizing gay marriage in the state.  

Employees at the Warwick facility waited too long to try to mobilize the community to fight the shutdown. This was due in part to the fact that the state had recently allocated substantial funds for repair work that was ongoing. Why would they close a place they’re spending big bucks to spruce up? As they waited for the announcement naming the facilities to be closed, they felt relatively secure theirs would be spared. When the news was announced, however, they swung into action, hoping they could light a fire under local officials and gain widespread community support. Most live in the area and many are lifelong residents. They circulated petitions, picketed on Kings Highway and launched a web site. 

But as the movement began to gain traction, the state moved up the date of the closing, originally scheduled for December. Almost all the prisoners have been relocated and many employees have been reassigned to other facilities. Some will be forced to move or give up their jobs because of the distance. Others will lose their jobs despite whatever assurances Rabbitt may have been given earlier. Sweeton and others recently met with state officials, who told them that Warwick would not be receiving any of the funds the state had allocated to help local communities deal with the effects of the closings. This is what happens when you are asleep at the wheel.

Meanwhile, rumor already has it that Jonah Mandelbaum, Warwick’s millionaire developer extraordinaire, has eyes for the property. Mandelbaum, a Republican, was a big donor to Governor Cuomo’s election campaign. Will the prison grounds be the site of another of his affordable housing complexes for seniors?

And whatever happened to the warm affection that Andrew Cuomo expressed for “the unions” as he addressed supporters the night he was elected governor. So far he has been more the wolf in sheep’s clothing. It seems that Mandelbaum was not the only big-money Republican contributor to his election campaign. The virulently anti-union Koch brothers are said to have donated more to Cuomo’s campaign than to that of the infamous Scott Walker in Wisconsin.  

I would be remiss if I failed to mention an aspect of the prison story that has troubled me from the start. It hit home when I read a letter to the editor from a correction officer to one of our Warwick weekly newspapers. The officer, who lives in Warwick and is related to one of my neighbors, pointed out that the closing of the prison would be a great loss to Warwick and other nearby towns. He explained that prisoners often are used to do painting and other needed work for free, thus saving the towns the cost of paying workers. “It’s a win-win,” he wrote. But he was wrong. It is really a lose-lose because local painters and others who work in the building trades are struggling to make ends meet now. They could have used the work. And what of the prisoners?

Beyond Mid-Orange Correctional and New York State there is a whole federal prison system that serves as a cheap, easy labor market for large corporations. As Rania Khalek writes in a recent article for AlterNet, “In the eyes of the corporation, inmate labor is a  brilliant strategy in the eternal quest to maximize profit. By dipping into the prison labor pool, companies have their pick of workers who are not only cheap but easily controlled. 

“Companies are free to avoid providing benefits like health insurance or sick days, while simultaneously paying little to no wages. They don’t need to worry about unions or demands for vacation time or raises. Inmate workers are full-time and never late or absent because of family problems. 

“If they refuse to work, they are moved to disciplinary housing and lose canteen privileges along with ‘good time’ credit that reduces their sentences. To top it off, the federal government subsidizes the use of inmate labor by private companies through lucrative tax write-offs. Under the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC), private-sector employers earn a tax credit of $2,400 for every work release inmate they employ as a reward for hiring “risky target groups” and they can earn back up to 40 percent of the wages they pay annually to “target group workers.” 

The article is titled “21st-Century Slaves: How Corporations Exploit Prison Labor.” It’s  an eye opener and worth reading in full. Here is the link: 

Michael can be reached at