CommentaryCommunity News September 23, 2012

Let’s Just Close Sing Sing Prison Already

The Powers That Be must have had a different attitude about prime waterfront land in centuries past, at least in Westchester County. Just in our northern River Towns alone, we have had a nuclear power plant, a landfill, a maximum security prison, and an automobile factory on the banks of the Hudson. Those aren’t very prescient examples of land use or planning.  

To Croton’s credit, the landfill is history, as is the GM plant in Tarrytown. I won’t touch Indian Point right now. 

But what I will say is that I am not going to take “no” for an answer when it comes to making Sing Sing go away. A year or two ago, the local news published a few stories on the possible closure of the Big House, but the politicians killed the idea for a variety of specious reasons, such as the hardship of the inmates’ families for visitation. The local jobs idea hasn’t been compelling for decades- most of the correction officers live upstate, and another facility would actually be an easier commute for them. 

The charm of the whole “up the river” thing dried up for me years ago. Someone from California might think it is cute after renting Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but locally, pragmatism trumps history. The prison is an eyesore. It repels people from wanting to live in our community. It does not help property values in the neighborhood, unless you know someone who wants to live next to a 20 foot wall with convicted murderers and sex offenders on the other side. It certainly doesn’t help the tax base, as the property does not generate the same tax revenue as private development would. It doesn’t enhance Ossining’s stature among Westchester municipalities. There is no upside.

The historical angle is a non-starter for me as well. If someone wants to make part of the older cell blocks a museum and put up plaques about how everyone’s dinner light would flicker during an execution they can do so. But the 130 acres the facility currently occupies could be put to far better use than housing 1700 felons in the heart of a vibrant village.

Build condos.
Build a mall and movie theater.
Build a new school for Ossining’s bulging, over capacity student body.
Build all of the above.

We’d put more people to work, raise tax revenue, and ease the tax burden on other properties if we get rid of the place. Oh, and we’ll also rid ourselves of one maximum security prison. That’s not bad either.