Just four months ago, the Greene County Jail was, for all intents and purposes, evacuated. Inmates were taken to jails in Columbia and Ulster counties. The jail’s outside doors were locked and secured, probably for all time.
Among the events since that day, April 20: The Greene County Legislature defeated a resolution to commission a feasibility study of a shared jail and shelved resolutions to borrow millions to build a new county jail in Coxsackie.
Much has changed during a summer of running in place. We learned Tuesday the Legislature is considering a plan to demolish the old jail and move the suspect-processing room to an undisclosed location in Coxsackie.
So, our questions boil down to these: Why? and Why now?
Tearing down the jail eliminates one of three options — the others are building a new jail or sharing a jail with Columbia County — that lawmakers vowed were still on the table. Demolition risks unleashing dangerous friable asbestos into the air of a busy Main Street shopping district, no matter how carefully the building is taken down. Whether spending $500,000 to demolish the century-old jail — a cost blamed on the building’s size and tight location on a hill — is a better alternative than spending $30,000 on a shared jail feasibility study is still worth instructive debate.
It certainly appears some officials are manipulating the old bait-and-switch to reduce the number of jail options to one — bonding for millions of dollars to build a new jail and saddle the next generation with 30 years of debt.
The Greene County Legislature has to do the right thing and ask: When will thoughtful debate on this issue reappear? Does the county have to spend millions to create a new jail or can it be achieved with a strategy of shared services? Will the projected number of future inmates justify new construction? The Legislature could have answered that question months ago by authorizing the feasibility study.
Some lawmakers, including Lori Torgersen, of Windham, have been asking this question: Are there smarter, and less expensive, ways to solve Greene County’s incarceration problem? We, like Torgersen, are waiting for an answer.