CATSKILL — A proposed jail with fewer beds is expected to go before Greene County lawmakers for a vote tonight.
The existing Greene County Jail on Bridge Street in Catskill was closed for safety reasons April 20 after the Commission of Corrections ranked it in February as one of the worst jails in the state.
Finance committee members approved a resolution Monday for a $39 million bond to construct a new jail behind Greene Correctional Facility off Route 9W in Coxsackie with a 7-2 vote. The committee voted in favor of the measure after approving an amendment to cap the new jail’s beds at 80 — a reduction from 96.
Legislators Charles Martinez, R-Coxsackie; Harry Lennon, D-Cairo; Thomas Hobart, R-Coxsackie; Larry Gardner, D-Hunter; Linda Overbaugh, R-Catskill; William Lawrence, R-Cairo; and Kevin Lewis, R-Greenville; voted in favor of the amendment and bond resolution.
Legislators Aidan O’Connor, D-Durham, and Kevin Lennon, D-Catskill, voted against the amendment and bond.
The committee meeting took place after several residents shared their thoughts on the jail project during a one-hour public comment session at 6 p.m. Dozens of residents spoke during the public comment portion and expressed mixed feelings about the project.
“I plead sanity for all of us,” said Jon Phillips, of Catskill. “You’re acting like someone is holding a gun to your head because interest rates are rising, but there is no crisis, there is no emergency. It’s all a big lie.”
Marvin Segelman, of Jewett, echoed similar statements.
“I’m begging you not to make this mistake,” he said. “Don’t bury the future of Greene County in the Coxsackie swamp.”
Some residents wanted an updated study analyzing the jail’s requirements, saying the Ricci-Greene was completed in 2014-15.
“Studies are a way to kill something,” Catskill Planning Board Chairman Joe Izzo said. “Greene County is unique. It’s important we keep our identity and the jail is a major component of that.”
During the committee meeting, Legislator Larry Gardner, D-Hunter, proposed the amendment to reduce the new jail to 80 beds.
“I thought the 96-cell proposal was excessive and should come down significantly,” Gardner said Tuesday, adding he planned the amendment and did not propose it in response to Monday’s public comment session.
Lawrence and Harry Lennon seconded the amendment to reduce the jail’s number of beds.
“Right sizing is the right approach to making it work,” Lawrence said.
Catskill resident Crane Davis worked with the Alternatives To Incarceration Committee to determine an appropriate size for the jail, he said.
“We recommended 66 beds or a maximum of 78 with double-bunking,” he said before the committee voted to reduce the facility’s beds.
The ATI committee’s recommendation for a smaller jail is because of the lack of outside inmates boarded in Greene County, Davis said.
“Who’s going to send people to Greene County if it’s the worst?” he said, referencing the study that ranked the Bridge Street facility as one of the five worst in the state.
Phoebe Potter, of West Kill, voiced her concerns about the 80-bed cap not corresponding with the ATI’s recommendations.
“It should say 80 beds and 66 cells,” she said.
Potter was also disappointed the bond resolution did not include a commitment to funding for alternatives to incarceration, she said.
“I know from conversations with [Gardner] he supports alternatives to incarceration,” Potter said Tuesday.
The finance committee did not know how the fewer beds would change the jail’s projected costs at the time of Monday’s vote.
Kevin Lennon made a motion to postpone the committee’s jail bond vote until lawmakers had more information about how much the smaller facility would cost.
“We’re putting the cart before the horse,” Lennon said. “It’s not how we should do business.”
The Catskill legislator expressed concern about how in-county services have not been used to evaluate the jail project, citing the county’s Buy In Greene and Invest In Greene programs established to promote local businesses.
“We say ‘Buy in Greene,’ but we’ve used outside real estate agents and engineers for this project,” Lennon said. “We should find a way to use our companies to do it.”
Legislator Lori Torgersen, D-Windham, does not feel all options have been explored, she said after the meeting.
“We have an incredible opportunity to be leaders for criminal justice,” said Torgersen, who has a Ph.D in criminal justice. “I think some of my colleagues are fearful of innovation. We obviously don’t have all the information… it is unequivocally not our only option.”
Davis expressed an interest in looking into rehabilitation options or picking another site that is less environmentally sensitive because the Coxsackie property is on wetlands, he said.
“We have the worst heroin problem in the state and we’re third for oxycodone,” he said.
After Monday’s vote took place, residents and legislators discussed the committee’s decision.
“I’m disappointed they’re not going to take a year to look at all the options,” Potter said. “I’m grateful they recognized that the current proposal is too big.”
Gardener felt the re-sizing was appropriate.
“I’m pleased with the outcome,” he said. “We have significantly lowered the bed count for what we’re submitting to [the] Commission of Corrections.”
The full county legislature will vote at 6:30 p.m. tonight in the county building’s legislative board room, 411 Main St., Catskill.
*Editor's note: This story corrects an earlier version. Legislator William Lawrence said “Right sizing is the right approach to making it work,” in reference to amending the number of beds in the proposed county jail project.