In the early 1960's, a young, brash Air Force sergeant from Brooklyn came home from service in South Korea, reassigned to the USAF weather station in Watertown. He found and married his life partner there, and they lived on base and started to raise a family that would eventually include three daughters. In 1981, prison Commissioner Thomas A. Coughlin III announced that, at the request of the Watertown community , his former military station atop Dry Hill, surplused and closed the year before by the Air Force, was to reopen as a medium-security prison. The bond between Watertown and the boy from Flatbush was now complete.
Reconstruction of the existing buildings began in January of 1982 and, in June of that year, the facility received its first inmates. For the rest of the year and into the next, the population at Watertown totaled about 225 inmates. In the spring of the following year, 1983, legislation was enacted in the state Legislature to expand Watertown to 545 beds. Bids totaling more than $13 million were awarded and construction began that fall.
By the following March, three new dormitory housing units - were opened, each holding 100 inmates, plus a new mess hall and kitchen. The construction project was completed by the fall of 1984 and, with additional construction down the road, Watertown today has the capacity to house a total of753 inmates.
This is a special year for Watertown, and consequently there will be a special celebration for staff and inmates on June 12 in honor of the faculty's 20th anniversary.
Different priorities in a bygone era
It was an occasionally unnerving era in the country in 1951, and those tumultuous Cold War times led to the birth of the air base on Dry Hill.
A May 5,1951, news article provided a glimpse into the happenings in the local community more than half a century ago, even though federal officials had been frequently less than forthcoming when it came to specific details.
"Construction of the $700,000 air base installation on Dry Hill is expected to be completed by the end of May, it was disclosed today," reported the Watertown Daily Times. "Installation of electronic equipment and the assignment of troops to the military air force outpost is expected before fall, it reported.
"It has been reported that between 300 and 400 officers and men will man the new installation in three shifts, 24 hours a day."
In 1969, Air Force officials had to aggressively fend off repeated rumors that the air base, which at the time had 150 military men and 26 civilians on its payroll, was going to be closed and important and good-paying area jobs would be permanently lost. In a January 11, 1969, article in the Watertown Daily Times, an Air Defense Committee (ADC) spokesman refuted the closure rumors.
" At the present time, the Air Force has no plans of deactivating the 655th Radar Squadron at the Watertown air station," the spokesman said.
The air force, noting that complex radar and computerized equipment at the base atop Dry Hill overlooking Watertown is being continually updated to keep pace with changing facets of this nation's defense system, said that "radar stations like the 655th Radar Squadron are the main elements in the radar net en- circling this country for defense against enemy attack.
"Early detection is a prerequisite in the timely destruction of an enemy force," the defense command headquarters, Ent Air Base, Colorado, explained. "The 655th Radar Squadron ensures that this detection capability is available at all times by continually providing radar information to the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) center, Hancock Field, Syracuse."
A different tune was sounded by defense officials some 10 years later.
"The Watertown Air Force Station, which has housed a radar operation at Dry Hill for the past 26 years, is scheduled to be shut down as part of the Defense Department's latest round of installation closings," reported the Apri126, 1978, Watertown Daily Times. "The Air Force plans to close Dry Hill by the fall of 1979. The move would wipe out 21 civilian and 115 military jobs. "
The installation closed as planned, and a lonely vacancy sign replaced the bustle of the past.
A new mission and focus
On September 28, 1981, after fielding repeated overtures from the Department, the Reagan administration transferred the former Dry Hill Air Force radar station to the state for use as a medium-security prison. Work began a few months later.
Watertown is located on approximately 113 acres of land of which some 40 acres entail the secured perimeter. Several of the buildings that were constructed in the 1950's to accommodate the air base were converted for use by DOCS as, among other things, dormitories and support services. In 1983,'a total of six dormitories were added as well as the food service area, vocational building, activities building and visitor's room. There are a total of 13 living units as well as a medical service building with 12 beds.
Like many other facilities throughout the state, Watertown is a much safer facility than it was six years ago. Watertown has seen a 42 percent decrease in the number of inmate-on-inmate assaults since 1996, down from 12 that year to seven last year. Additionally, the number of unusual incidents has fallen by 52 percent, from 61 in 1996 to just 29 in 2001, and the number of violent incidents has fallen 44 percent, from 16 to nine in 2001. There have been no escapes from the facility since January 1, 1995.
The facility workforce totaled 412 in 1995 and 357 in 2002; the main reason for the decrease is the ongoing reduction in the prison population and the vacating of upper dormitory bunks. Operating expenses rose from $17.8 million in Fiscal 1996 to $22 million in Fiscal 2001. The payroll portion of that spending rose from $15.1 million in Fiscal 1996 to $18.1 million in Fiscal 2001.
Watertown has had $1,404,141 in capital expenses since 1995 and will spend an estimated $214,390 on capital projects in Fisca12003 for a total of$1,618,531. This has financed and will pay for general maintenance and assorted rehabilitation projects, including installation of a new fire alarm system in Fiscal 1997.
Programs provide dividends
Watertown features a wide variety of innovative programming designed to provide its inmate population with the basic education and vocational skills that they need to succeed in the community upon their eventual release from prison. It's no small undertaking but one that's embraced on a daily basis by the 357 employees-which includes 246 security staffers -who work at Watertown.
Overall, Watertown offers a full range of academic education, vocational training, counseling services and volunteer services programs. It also has supervised community service " crews that work in municipalities, school districts and not-for- profit agencies in the Watertown area on a variety of needed projects.
The facility was accredited in the fall of 1983 by the American Correctional Association, affirming that it meets nationally- acceptable standards in its management and operations. Watertown, which at the time was only the second facility in the state to receive that recognition, has been accredited triennially since then.
Watertown is the site of one of the Department's successful Alcohol and Substance Abuse Treatment (ASAT) programs, which are behaviorally and biopsychosocially based. A variety of approaches are used to help break the string of addiction including education, individual and group counseling, relapse and transition counseling and various self-help programs to help inmates understand the process of addiction and the dynamics of recovery.
The program is designed to help inmates begin the process of recovery from alcohol and other addictive drugs. Competency areas that are covered include decision making and communication skills, understanding criminal thinking, the process of recovery and the process of maintaining a drug-free lifestyle.
Completion of the ASAT program generally takes six months depending on the setting and intensity of the program, along with the inmate's ability to demonstrate a functional understanding of the process of addiction and the process of recovery.
Watertown also is the site of one of the Department's Aggression Replacement Training (ART) programs, which is designed to assist inmates in identifying and controlling aggressive behavior. ART is provided by trained inmate facilitators under the general supervision of a facility staff coordinator. The program consists of three coordinated interventions: structured learning which involves such disciplines as role playing and performance feedback; anger control training and moral reasoning.
ART involves a total of 100 hours of instruction for program completion. The duration of the program varies from eight to 16 weeks, depending on the schedule of classes established by the individual participating facilities. The goal is to assist in identifying aggressive behavior tendencies and teach the inmate ways to control their anger and aggressive behavior. Ultimately, the theory is that learned skills will then be incorporated into their day-to-day learning experiences.
To cater to members of the minority population with special needs, Watertown also offers a Drug Abuse Counseling program in Spanish. This is a self-help program in which group discussions are conducted that primarily focus on substance abuse awareness as well as other related and current issues. The goal of this program is to provide inmates with a setting in which to ventilate their frustrations, thoughts and feelings, and to channel their energies toward meaningful and productive endeavors.
To further serve the Hispanic population, the facility also has a Hispanic Inmate Needs program. Basically, it serves as a liaison between the Department and those Hispanic inmates who are under custody. The goal of the program is to assist DOCS in meeting the needs of Hispanic inmates in the delivery of services as related to issues like health services, education, libraries, counseling, mental health, legal issues, pre-post release services and ethnic awareness training.
On the ministerial services side of the ledger, Watertown offers its inmates the successful Family Services program, a multi-faceted initiative that includes the following elements: individual and family counseling to assist with the enhancement of familial relationships; parent education programs for inmates with attention to the same or similar programs for the non-incarcerated partner; children's play areas in, or adjacent to, visiting rooms, and hospitality centers to accommodate incoming or outgoing visitors.
The goal of the Family Services program is to enrich and strengthen family relationships in anticipation of the inmate's eventual return to the community and his family reintegration.
Besides offering a full range of educational programming, Watertown also offers a variety of occupational training programs designed to provide inmates with the basic job skills that they will need to become employed upon their release from prison. Program offerings include building maintenance, computer repair, custodial maintenance, electrical trades, horticulture, print shop, small engine repair and food service.
The food service and print shop vocational training can be particularly beneficial to Watertown inmates. With regard to the former, for instance, students are instructed in baking bread and pastry, preparing all types of foods, kitchen sanitation and the proper procedures and techniques used in serving food. This will provide those inmates involved with the program with the skills they need to get jobs not only as general cooks but also as sandwich makers, storeroom clerks, baker's assistants, dining room attendants, pastry and vegetable cooks and short order breakfast cooks.
The print shop program also can pave the way for a number of careers such as desktop publishers, darkroom helper, offset-press operator, offset-plate maker, inventory clerk, folding machine operator, bindery worker and camera operator.
Being a good and helping neighbor
The employees and inmates at Watertown remain a vital part of the North Country community.
Regular inmate program assignments include outdoor work assignments in supervised community service crews working for local governments, school districts and various non-profit groups. Projects include snow and debris removal, church repairs and fighting floods, ice storms and forest fires; service crew inmates also help maintain the facility grounds. If not for DOCS, many of those needed but publicly-unfunded projects would not otherwise be completed. Since 1995,Watertown crews have logged 116,325 work hours with 33,974 hours of security supervision.
Some of Watertown's younger inmates, under the supervision of a Correction Officer, also run a highly- successful Youth Assistance Program (YAP). It's specifically designed to provide positive guidance and direction to at-risk youth who reflect a tendency toward becoming involved with the criminal justice system in a negative manner at a future time in their lives. The goal is to help young at-risk youth develop positive attitudes that will help them realize that they can make changes in their lifestyles and thus be able to avoid the prospects of incarceration.
Watertown staff also have had a big impact in the community over the years. Staff members frequently donate their time to conduct child identification programs in the local community, advising children how to avoid being abducted and preparing individual ID packages that include DNA hair samples, a photo- graph of the child and fingerprints.
Each October staff and inmates also participate in Make a Difference Day activities. For 2001, employees at Watertown donated $3,000 to the American Heart Association; they raised the money by participating in the Heart Walk and scheduling other fund-raisers. Employees also raised an additional $3,120 for the American Cancer Society by participating in the agency's annual Relay for Life.
Additionally, Watertown has hosted the Jefferson County Volunteer Firefighters Association Training Center since 1982. Watertown also uses the building as a training center. Also on the grounds is the Jefferson County Firefighters' Memorial, and the live fire training facility. The Fire Coordinator's Office shares administration of the building and grounds with Watertown.
Watertown is one of only a handful of prisons in the state that has its own Color Guard. The 12-member unit practices frequently to stay sharp when it makes forays into the community for memorial services, parades and other well-attended community events.
Just as the community appreciates what Watertown staff and inmates have done for them, staff and inmates are also appreciative of what the community has given them.
A total of 85 registered volunteers from throughout the community visit Watertown on a regular basis to help inmates with a variety of issues, including substance abuse treatment, religious needs, transitional services, academic and vocational education, prerelease services and tutoring; they also lend a hand in the visiting center.q
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Article is from DOCS TODAY June 2002