January 20, 2012

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Study looks at county jail collaborations

Sullivan County's overcrowded century-old jail is the
oldest in the region. Ulster County has the newest (below)

GOSHEN – With an aim of looking at how the Hudson Valley's correctional facilities might work collaboratively, a study conducted by the Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach at SUNY New Paltz presents a number of cost-saving methods to make county jails more efficient. Overtime, transportation costs, training and other expenses are unnecessarily bloated, according to the CRREO report.

Joshua Simons and Dr. Gerald Benjamin conducted the research study of jails in Columbia, Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan and Ulster counties, and presented some of their findings Thursday in Goshen to local law enforcement heads and county officials. Their thesis is one of collaboration between regional facilities in the interest of improving the economy of operations without compromising security.

Orange County Sheriff Carl DuBois said consolidation has been something elected officials have traditionally condemned, but called the report "a constructive first step” in determining the baselines of several governmental agencies.

“It implies with the same multitude of challenges that are faced when attempting to affect a measure of sharing or consolidation,” he said. “It is my experience that no elected official wants to diminish his or her autonomy by relinquishing their responsibilities that they have now.”

"We have a near crisis in two places," said Benjamin. "We have Sullivan County facing a massive investment in a jail, which they've been resisting for a while. And we have Dutchess County, which has one of the highest proportions of boarding out in all of New York State."

Boarding out refers to inmates who are sent to other county jails due to insufficient space, which costs the counties the cost of housing and transportation, and is one reason the study recommends the facilities in Dutchess and Sullivan counties build additions or even new facilities. Using closed state jails as overflow facilities to accommodate the excess inmates is another proposed idea.

With costs where they are now, the report says counties can spend anywhere from $600,000 to $900,000 per year on transportation alone. The hit could be ameliorated by simply leaving transportation in the hands of part-timers, they say, and avoiding overtime. Simons said part of the fault lies in the complexity of court scheduling.

"Even something as simple as coordinating the justice court schedules with the jail transportation units, where instead of sending inmates to individual courts, some kind of transportation loop where the loop would hit three different courts in one day would save a tremendous amount of manpower," he said.

The report also suggests a more liberal use of technology to evaluate inmates at a distance. Whether that be visitation or even medical examination, video linking could be utilized to avoid some transportation all together.

The 74-page report, "A Collaborative Approach to County Jailing in the Hudson Valley", is on the SUNY New Paltz website.


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