Updated 10/15/2012 07:40 PM
State adding to overcrowded county jails
It's something that costs several counties, including Jefferson and Oswego, more than a million dollars a year. Their jails are overcrowded and some inmates have to be housed elsewhere. Considering housing, health and travel expenses, it's busting some budgets. It's a problem one state lawmaker says is partially the state's fault. Our Brian Dwyer has more on a proposed law that would require the state to take care of its own.
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WATERTOWN, N.Y. -- It's a problem in Oswego County.
"If everything holds true until the end of the year, we're going to be about a million one over," Oswego County Undersheriff Gene Sullivan said.
It's an issue in Jefferson as well.
"Jail overcrowding has been a problem for over 10 years. Ever since I've been sheriff," Jefferson County Sheriff John Burns said.
Also in St. Lawrence County.
"We've recently had some overcrowding issues and a lot of that is based on the fact we have parolees sitting here," St. Lawrence County Sheriff Kevin Wells added.
Parolees who should actually be in state prisons. In fact, there's more than 780 parolees sitting in county jails across the state. The state used to reimburse the counties for that, but not anymore. The housing, medical, transportation and payroll costs pile up.
"We've all made our phone calls as sheriffs to parole and said, 'Why is this one still sitting here? Why haven't they had a parole hearing?'" Wells said.
"These are state inmates. These are the state's problems. The state should be paying financially and the county shouldn't be picking up the tab and causing the overcrowding issue," State Senator Patty Ritchie said. "Local taxpayers shouldn't be paying for a state problem.”
Ritchie met behind closed doors with three sheriff's in her district and also fellow Senator Michael Nozzolio, who chairs the Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections Committees. She's pushing a bill that would require the state to pick up parolees within ten days.
"It's not a few hundred dollars a day," Senator Nozzolio added. "It's in the tens of thousands of dollars a day just for the counties Senator Ritchie represents. Across the state, it's a multi-million dollar problem."
While they know it won't be the be-all, end-all solution to the overcrowding issue, especially in Jefferson and Oswego counties, the sheriff's do agree this change could make a big difference in the budget.
"Is it the total solution? No," Sullivan said. "Is it a significant number to local municipality like Oswego County? Absolutely."
"You take the medical again. You take what it costs to feed them and clothe them. You're talking, from Jefferson County, that's big money," Burns added.
Ritchie says there's beds out there in state prisons. She points out Watertown's just closed two dorms that had roughly 100 beds.
Nozzolio says that it's too early to tell if any more state prisons, such as Watertown or Ogdensburg, would again be on the chopping block in the upcoming budget proposal.