Now, Albany County has entered the Greene County stage from the wings with a story about its jail. Greene County officials might want to listen.
State criminal justice reforms, which go into effect in January, are expected to keep about 90% of people out of jail prior to their court date. That means just one in 10 will have to be held behind bars. Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple recently announced innovative responses to the projected jail population decline. Part of the Albany County Jail will contain transitional housing for the homeless and counseling for veterans. Officials even changed the name to the Albany County Corrections and Rehabilitative Services Center.
Greene County Legislator William Lawrence, R-Cairo, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said a jail is inappropriate for both populations. Greene County Legislature Chairman Patrick Linger, R-New Baltimore, said Albany County is thinking ahead.
“Good for them,” Linger said. “I think it’s a smart move.” Smart for Albany County, but not so smart for Greene County, it appears.
Apple was judicious in his approach to the jail.
“This was the perfect opportunity,” he said. “We’re taking a building most people view as bad and doing something positive with it.”
The first important point is that the Albany jail was already experiencing a high vacancy rate.
“I have 600 open cells and with bail reform, I’m expecting to lose another 50 to 90 inmates,” Apple said. “I have this huge building with a big vacancy. What can we do with it?”
The second important point is that the transition was accomplished at low cost. Apple and his team transformed the jail for just $10,000. That’s double what Greene County would have paid for a feasibility study of the jail now under construction in Coxsackie.
Lawrence said he does not think the new Greene County Jail could feasibly offer these services.
“Our jail is going to be reasonably small,” he said. “The needs of the homeless are so much different than those of inmates. For veterans I feel the same way. They deserve to be treated better as well.”
Said Linger: “There is a lot more space available in Albany. They have 1,000 beds in multiple buildings. They can take a full building for [the homeless].”
The Greene County facility is not set up for that, Linger said.
Yes, the Greene County Jail will be smaller than the Albany County facility. But Greene County is likely to face a proportionate decline in the jail population and a high vacancy rate, just like Albany County, once the state’s criminal justice reforms become law in January.
In other words, Greene County officials should start preparing now for what they might see in the future.