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Crumbling Greene County Jail under scrutiny

The Greene County Jail on Bridge Street in Catskill.
April 23, 2018 11:38 pm

CATSKILL — Lawmakers and jail officials are awaiting final structural evaluations of the Greene County Jail to be completed after it was closed indefinitely because of structural concerns.

The jail was ranked as one of the worst correctional facilities in the state by the state Commission of Correction in February.

Closing the jail for safety reasons was a mutual decision made by Greene County Sheriff Greg Seeley and three members of the Greene County Legislature after consultation with Kaaterskill Associates, of Cairo.

Legislature Chairman Kevin Lewis, R-Greenville, and Legislators William Lawrence, R-Cairo, and Michael Bulich, R-Catskill, attended a meeting Friday at the county building in Catskill where the group made the decision to close the jail, Lawrence said Monday.

“It was just a temporary safeguard,” Lawrence said. “We didn’t want to take a chance; it was a good decision.”

The decision to move all inmates out of the Greene County Jail was fairly easy, Bulich said. The Catskill legislator hopes to sit down with his fellow legislators to discuss the matter further.

“I wasn’t quite surprised at all because we knew there were a couple of issues with a wall separating from the flooring,” Bulich said.

Boarding out to other jails cost $75 per inmate, Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden said.

“None of the inmates could be released on a different kind of bail,” he said.

Greene County corrections officers will not be guarding Greene inmates at the Ulster County Jail, but they will transport arrestees to the Ulster County Jail and inmates who have court appearances.

“They’ll increase the work projects such as litter pickup and painting,” Groden said.

None of the 36 corrections officers who worked at the Catskill jail will be laid off, Seeley said, but added the facility was short nine officers at the time of the closure.

Work release programs will be created for inmates to work regular jobs and head back to jail at the end of their shift, all transported by corrections officers.

“We need COs to do transports all day long,” Seeley said. “Trust me, there’s gong to be plenty of work for these COs to do.”

A decision on the jail project shouldn’t be made because of a knee-jerk reaction, Bulich said, adding money can be saved by sharing a facility with Columbia County.

“As long as they [the commission] see us moving and talking about these things, they’re not going to rush us into some final decision,” Bulich said.

If lawmakers decide to build a new facility in Coxsackie, it would take two to three years before the project is completed and inmates would continue to be boarded out, Bulich said.

“It may be cheaper to board everybody out at the end of the day,” he said.

Twenty-one inmates were transported to the Ulster County Jail, Lawrence said.

Bulich last set foot in the jail two years ago and said he could see how it was deteriorating then.

“You could see from the floor to the ceiling, you had a 100-year-old building with a lot of wear and tear,” he said.

All 14 legislators were informed of the news after Lewis, Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden and Buildings & Grounds Superintendent Bill Smith examined the issues, Lawrence said. Other legislators who couldn’t attend the meeting also approved of the decision.

Kaaterskill Associates engineers conducted two previous reviews of the jail and had concerns that had to be addressed, Groden said. Engineers will be back this week to make a determination about the jail’s safety, which is expected to be completed by Thursday or Friday.

It will take a day to examine the building and another day to write a report, Groden said.

“He [the engineer] couldn’t confirm the concerns until he got back into the building to do a more in-depth review,” he added.

An internal masonry wall, which is the support system for the floors and roof, is of major concern to officials, the county administrator said.

“It’s actually in one of the pods that’s closed,” Groden said. “We didn’t know what the potential could be. That’s why we did it [closed the jail] as a precaution.”

A new heating system and pipes have to be installed for the existing jail to be reopened, Seeley said Monday. The county sheriff estimates it would take a year to make the adjustments and reopen the Catskill facility.

“Why do we even put a dime into this?” Seeley said. “It [the jail] should be condemned and closed down.”

Once lawmakers receive the engineer’s report, the Legislature will meet in special session to discuss the options, Lawrence said.

If the jail is found to be unsafe, Greene County lawmakers will seek authorization from the state Commission of Correction to board out inmates for a longer term. Lawmakers would then have to make a decision within 90 days of the closure.

“They’re [the commission] not going to just let us board them out with no plan,” Lawrence said. “If we don’t go anywhere, there’s no way for another county to take our prisoners without their approval.”

The important thing to focus on is the ability to get a consensus to build a jail at the proposed site in Coxsackie, as opposed to sharing a facility with Columbia County or rehabilitating the existing jail, Lawrence said.

“We have to make a decision one way or another,” he added.

The jail’s closure will not help push the decision to either build in Coxsackie or share with Columbia County, Groden said. The Legislature may vote to bond to build a new jail, which is estimated at $51.4 million, but the decision must be made before June, Groden said, or the county risks losing the 2018 construction season.

Seeley’s decision to close the jail was made for the safety of jail staff and inmates, not to urge legislators a new jail should be built in the county, he said.

“We all sat and talked around the table, we even had the county attorney [Edward Kaplan] in there,” Seeley said. “If something seriously happened [at the jail] I couldn’t sleep at all.”

To reach reporter Daniel Zuckerman email or follow him on Twitter @DZuckerman_CGM.