Until this week, it’s fairly safe to say few people in this area ever heard of Assemblyman Joseph Lentol.
Lentol, a Brooklyn Democrat from the 50th Assembly District who chairs the Codes Committee, could soon be a household name.
In an interview Wednesday, Lentol sent shock waves through the establishment by saying we could have a regional jail to serve two counties, and that includes Greene. Hey, he added, it’s no big deal.
“I think it’s something that’s necessary,” he said. “We don’t need to be building jails necessarily in every county.” The state’s criminal justice reforms make the timing for regional jail legislation ideal, he added.
“We’re entering a new era where we want to reduce prison size and stop the prison brigade in our state,” Lentol said. “I hope this will start a trend to downsize our criminal population.”
Greene County residents will not have to shoulder the tax burden of a new jail, Lentol said. “It’s a win all the way around,” he said.
The Codes Committee meets weekly and a bill could be introduced this week or next week.
For Greene County taxpayers, however, Lentol’s words are more encouraging than his timing. The estimated $66 million jail project is about a week away from receiving its final permits. Construction will begin if the county Legislature fails to receive a clear answer from the state about an existing law on shared jails.
The spectre of breach-of-contract lawsuits filed by contractors hovers if the county Legislature can turn this jail project around, but if no contracts have been signed and no money paid, there are no breaches.
Simply, time is ticking down to zero to reverse the course. It may not be the Taj Mahal, but Greene County is on the verge of building a jail that will cost taxpayers tens of millions for a relative handful of inmates. The Legislature is on pace to be haunted for years by a brief, nagging question: What if?