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County moves on new jail

by Stephen Kaye
Sun Mar 6th, 2016

New jail controversy

County Executive Marc Molinaro is asking the County legislature to approve a $192 million bond issue to fund additions to the county jail and new offices for the Sheriff.  The bond will cost taxpayers $10 million a year or $270 million over the 27 years of the bond’s duration. This project has been in the works for years, and it now looks like it is moving forward.  The State Commissioner of Corrections has threatened to withdraw the permit for temporary housing if the county legislature does not approve the bond issue by a deadline of April 1. (see editorial).  The bond approval is scheduled for March 21.

In his message to the county legislature, Molinaro says:

The CJC’s Needs Assessment Report, which was validated by industry expert RicciGreeneAssociates in 2013, called for a two pronged approach – first, enhance the County’s innovative work with Alternatives to Incarceration programs to divert people away from the jail and drive down recidivism; and second, move forward with larger jail facility, designed as transition center campus where the County can improve its ability to institute additional evidence-based rehabilitative and re-entry programs.

The new facility will have 569 beds, an increase of 312 over the 257-bed jail that was built over stages, the last units being added 1995.   As the Commissioner’s letter makes clear, the county can not count on using those temporary units for very long. 

The new jail would be constructed on the site of the old facility, most of which would be demolished.  

The county now houses 422 inmates, about half in temporary housing.  The number of inmates decreased in the last year from 487 as more potential inmates are diverted either to mental health or drug rehabilitation facilities.   

Former Republican legislator Mike Kelsey thought the needs are for better mental health programs and better addiction services since much of the jail population come from those two cohorts.  It is argued that by servicing the needs of those two sectors, the need for jail space would be greatly diminished.  Janet Reagon, Amenia resident and frequent critic of the jail expansion, has posted a letter to the editor in which she raises these issues.  Kelsey confirmed last week that he still thinks the jail as promoted by the County Executive exceeds our needs and is overly ambitious in scope and cost. 

According to the reports cited by the County Executive, the effect on the county budget might be less than $10 million a year (the annual cost of the bond) since the budget now has about $8 million for housing and transporting inmates in other state approved facilities.  Jail inmates have to be housed in facilities meeting state regulations promulgated by the State Commission of Corrections. The projections made by the county actually forecast a net savings to taxpayers of $5 million a year due to efficiencies that should reduce costs and save manpower. 

The County Executive, in his state of the county message, offered a comprehensive program that would seem to answer most of the critics.  We quote part of his message here: 

We are reshaping mental health services and transforming the criminal justice system to protect the public and advocate for victims, while preventing mental health crisis, and treating mental illness as a disease – not a crime.  Last year, the County Legislature authorized the creation of our new Stabilization Center to divert those in crisis due to substance abuse and/or mental illness away from the county jail and toward the help they need.

 

The Stabilization Center, opening later this year, is part of a progression of steps following the creation of our Mobile Crisis Intervention Team (MCIT) in 2012 – which last year assisted over 3,700 individuals.

 

Resources and professionals are available immediately, 24 hours a day seven days a week to support law enforcement responding to behavioral health emergencies, assist those in crisis, avoid waiting in an emergency room or unnecessarily going to a jail cell, and helping to prevent an individual in crisis from committing a crime, taking a life or ending their own.

 

Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) for local law enforcement, corrections officers and first responders is providing incredible benefit.  Dutchess County is educating them on how to effectively interact with individuals in crisis, creating a partnership between law enforcement, advocacy groups and mental health providers.  Thanks to our work, every law enforcement officer on patrol is being trained in CIT or Mental Health First Aid.  We are grateful to the County Sheriff’s Office, New York State Police and local law enforcement for embracing this effort and the work you do in our community.

 

To further our efforts, we call on the State’s Office of Court Administration to fully fund Drug Courts and help us establish a Mental Health Court in Dutchess County – again we are prepared to be a model for New York.

 

As we divert those with mental health issues away from the jail, we are intervening with others to provide Alternatives to Incarceration, helping individuals change their behavior rather than simply locking them up.  By design and default, we have developed among the broadest range of Alternatives to Incarceration in New York.    The Women’s Reporting Center, a joint effort with our partner Project More, provides case management, behavior therapy, and transitional housing for women. In 2015, 80 women, who would otherwise have been incarcerated, completed the program and earned a tremendous opportunity to turn their lives around.

 

For those incarcerated by court order, we continue to provide a full spectrum of transitional programs designed to prepare individuals currently in jail to successfully and productively return to our community, reducing the potential for re-offense.

 

RESTART is the newest program offered at the jail.   High-risk offenders are provided cognitive therapies, linked with critical aftercare, ensuring they are connected with community providers when they return home; and nearly 90% of Dutchess County inmates return to Dutchess County homes. We are expanding services to offer case management, mentoring and job opportunities like those in our Exodus re-entry program for those leaving prison.

 

Assistant County Executive Ron Hicks, the Workforce Investment Board and the Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce will work to establish even more job training and employment opportunities for these individuals, and we have “banned the box” from civil service employment applications because those who have repaid their debt to society should at least be given a chance to interview for a job.

 

Currently, 45 men and 19 women voluntarily participate in the RESTART program, but due to space limitations at the jail, we are already at capacity.  With strong demand and measurable success, lack of space at the current county jail undermines our extensive work.

 

Our restorative justice approach can be a model for America, but the current county jail is inhumane: It’s too old, too small, too inefficient, too expensive and too unsafe.  With as many as 520 inmates before the temporary units and room for only 257, our jail presents safety risks to inmates and our dedicated corrections officers.  It stifles our restoration and rehabilitation efforts.  And, because of its antiquated design, we spend more tax money to staff this facility for the number of inmates than any county in New York.

 

In order to properly prevent crime and treat those with mental illness as patients and not prisoners, in order to stop warehousing human beings and instead help break the cycle of criminal behavior, in order to empower individuals to become self-sustaining within their families, neighborhoods and community, the time has come to tear down that jail – demolish much of it and in its place build the most effective and efficient Transition Center of its kind.

 

For over 20 years, we have debated what to do about our county jail. We have allowed the callous practice of housing massive numbers of inmates in other county jails to annually consume over $8 million of your tax dollars.   Since 2005, we have been under direct order from Albany to build adequate space, and with bi-partisan support these last four years, we engaged in a comprehensive analysis of our entire criminal justice system.

 

Now is time to solve this problem.

 

My submission to the Legislature will also include a $500,000 request to truly break the cycle and reduce the number of young people who enter our criminal justice system.   With so many opportunities to empower our kids and prevent crime, we will conduct the most extensive analysis of youth services and crime prevention ever undertaken.  We will identify strengths, weaknesses, gaps in service and opportunities to improve; and we will create a comprehensive action plan for the most integrated and successful crime prevention and youth empowerment program of any county in New York State.

 

Further, I am recommending adding $500,000 to the $1 million we have already committed to partnering with the City of Poughkeepsie and others to build a Youth Services Center.   That’s an additional $2 million investment in crime prevention and youth services.

 

More background is available: here

 

Others contacted by TMI have urged caution, as the steps being taken to divert potential inmates may so lessen the jail population as to make the $200 million jail unnecessary.  If the jail is delayed until the trends become more apparent, a more informed decision can be made.  County legislator Joel Tyner says “there's no ‘need’ for any rush to expand the jail-- there is no legal ‘mandate’ from the NYS Commission of Correction to expand the Dutchess County Jail.  Tompkins County successfully fought a similar NYSCOC jail expansion mandate that started in 1999 for a new 160-bed jail (and ended up only expanding their county jail this year by seven beds-- at a cost of less than a million dollars).”  He adds: “since 70 percent of our county jail inmates haven't even gone to trial yet, it would behoove our county leaders to do everything possible to expedite trial/court dates for those cases” citing the Bronx where expediting the cases decreased the jail population by 40 percent in three years.