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Locked in Place

by on April 9, 2013

New York might not offer much in areas like jobs or hope. But you’re in luck if you seek to reenact scenes from The Walking Dead or wish for a fenced-in place to escape and play foosball in peace. In that case, the state has what you want, although they’ll stop pretending to care about you when it’s property tax time.

Our government is auctioning correctional facilities at below-market price in a new contender for the most New York thing ever. More noteworthy is that they think there’s a market at all. Selling some of its useful assets is shortsighted, but at least it won’t help much in the present:

In May, New York state will try — for the second time — to sell 31 acres with 38 buildings including a gymnasium and a chapel, as well as on-site water and sewage-treatment systems.

Starting bid: $90,000, a relative steal compared to the previous price of $390,000.

The facilities sound like a camp’s, and you could institute a no-wedgie rule if you want. You could own a place that’s by definition remote for a bargain price. I just wonder if there’s a catch:

The catch: It’s a former prison, surrounded by rural land.

At 11 locations across the state, New York is trying to sell vacant prisons and juvenile-justice facilities that have closed over the past two years as part of budget cutbacks and consolidations.

The empty properties contain hundreds of vacant structures built upon thousands of vacant acres of land with sought-after amenities like central water and sewer systems and natural gas lines. But they also carry something of a stigma because of their former use.

Selling the compounds set aside for our wayward neighbors may be as myopic as trading insulin for candy money. Still, the fire jail sale is a way to get funds for the state, as they just don’t get enough in massive taxes and petty fees:

Is anyone in the market for an old prison? The state is trying, but so far, there aren’t many takers.

“(Empire State Development) is working with a number of other state agencies to find ways to save taxpayers money and transform costly, underutilized facilities into opportunities that will create jobs or better serve the community,” said Cassie Harvey, a spokeswoman for Empire State Development, the state’s economic-development arm. “Our efforts to redevelop these facilities are moving forward positively, with many in the process of sale or transfer.”

The state finally cares about efficiency when it comes to having as few people pay for their crimes as possible. The real cost of shuttering what have become otherwise useless facilities comes in the unwillingness to hold people accountable for their transgressions:

At the same time, the prison population has declined precipitously over the past decade as the state has clawed back its tough drug laws and emphasized programs that transition low-risk prisoners to the streets sooner. Since 1999, the state’s prison population has dropped from 71,600 to its current level of about 55,000 inmates.

Fewer people incarcerated is great unless it means more naughty people are on the street. New York’s leaders know how to fight crime as well as they know how to get the economy humming. Their success at selling prisons gives them a chance to flaunt both skills. Albany could at least begin selling things it shouldn’t own.

Letting resources go unused may make us broke, but nonchalance about criminals will cause greater damage than mere poverty. One of the state’s legitimate roles is keeping those who have been convicted of being bad behind a vast fence. The desperation to sell pens is a sign that the state’s leaders remain soft on crime. Meanwhile, they strive to punish people who have committed no other violation than owning a 10-round magazine just in case you thought they might know who the real villains are.

The best way to reduce the need for incarceration is to create a better economic situation where the effort involved in stealing isn’t worth it. For now, the rest of the state feels like the inside of a prison. As they wonder why there’s little demand for fortified enclosures, New York again shows that it doesn’t behave well enough to deserve parole.

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