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Twin County residents share thoughts on Greene jail project

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    The existing Greene County Jail on Bridge Street in Catskill.
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    William Wynne, of Catskill, supports the idea of a shared jail concept between Greene and Columbia counties.
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    A Greene County Sheriff’s Office police van parked in front of the Greene County Courthouse in Catskill. Since the existing county jail in Catskill closed, Greene County inmates have been transported to jails in Columbia County and Ulster County.
September 4, 2018 11:55 pm

CATSKILL — As the Greene County Legislature grapples with a $39 million bond resolution to help pay for a new county jail in Coxsackie, Twin County residents shared their thoughts about what the county should do ahead of tonight’s vote at the legislature’s Public Safety Committee meeting.

Passage by the Public Safety Committee means the resolution will come to a vote at the legislature’s Finance Committee meeting scheduled for Sept. 17. From there it could be voted on by the full legislature Sept. 19. The new jail would be built behind the Greene Correctional Facility off Route 9W in Coxsackie.

Greene County reaction

A new jail built in Greene County is crucial because the existing jail is beyond repair, Bruce Jackson, of Catskill, said, adding Catskill and Hudson residents are at odds.

“There is a lot of friction between Catskill and Hudson,” Jackson said. “We actually do need one [a jail].”

Jackson knows the importance of having a new jail — he was an officer at the Coxsackie Correctional Facility from 1975 to 1981. He wondered about how much training correctional officers have received.

“We had to go to training for six months,” he said. “They [new corrections officers] look like they just got out of high school.”

A shared jail with Columbia County will save the taxpayers money and corrections officers can be given other jobs to do, William Wynne, of Catskill, said.

“If it doesn’t get overpopulated it should be all right, but if it gets overpopulated then they don’t have a choice but to build another jail,” Wynne said.

Greene County needs a new jail, but it should be built in an abandoned hotel such as the former Friar Tuck Inn on Route 32 in Kiskatom, John Kemble, of Catskill, said.

“Why don’t they turn that into a jail?” Kemble said.

A shared jail concept won’t save Greene County money in the long term, Kemble said.

“You’ll get more revenue if you keep people here,” he said.

Columbia County reaction

Greene County lawmakers should continue pursuing construction of a new jail, Kwesi Gray, of Hudson, said, adding lawmakers would never suggest two counties sharing a school district. The jail should be no different.

“There should be a separate jail for each county,” Gray said.

The area does not need any more jails and a shared facility is the better option in the event that it’s needed, Kim Wheeler, of Westerlo, said as she walked along Warren Street in Hudson. Many of Wheeler’s neighbors support building a jail in Coxsackie.

“I think still, less people in jail, the better,” she said.

Construction of a new Greene County Jail will be a multi-million-dollar project, but if the county can afford the bill without a handout, then it should be built, Robert Michel, of Hudson, said.

“You’ve got to put them [inmates] someplace,” Michel said.

The Finance Committee on May 14 shelved a resolution to authorize a bond worth $51.4 million for a new county jail opting instead to explore cost savings. The bond amount was reduced to $39 million thanks to $4 million in cuts to the jail’s design and the county’s ability to offset project costs by using its fund balance — leftover funds amassed from budgets of previous years — to reduce the amount the county has to borrow. This past year’s fund balance was $11 million.

The existing Greene County Jail on Bridge Street in Catskill was closed April 20 for safety reasons after it was ranked as one of the worst jails in the state in February by the state Commission of Corrections.

The Bridge Street jail could be bound for demolition once results from an asbestos evaluation are presented to county officials in September or October.

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

Thank you Dan Zuckermann... over and over and over again. It’s time to pivot to formalize ATI, perhaps with a new name. It is needed to run our social and (non-court_ justice systems.

William Lawrence
Chairman Safety Committee
Greene County Legislature
411 Main Street
Catskill, NY 12414

September 4, 2018

Re: Any loan for construction of a new jail in Coxsackie
is the most irresponsible act any legislator can do

Dear Bill:

Thank you for your roll in the jail issue, but as you know we’re failing.

There is no money here. There is no plan or implementation of new money, for-profit, non-seasonal, jobs or industry. We are already operating under a shared/regional jail method. In all actuality, we don’t have much crime here.
The Worst Offender’s Report from the Commission on Corrections[1]notices the problem is the behavior of Sheriff Greg Seeley and Jail Superintendent Michael Spitz. Like Rikers, which is closing, it’s the management, not the architecture that needs an overhaul.
When I stopped the $90 million[2]jail bond in February the legislature created an Alternatives to Incarceration (“ATI”) committee. I attended every ATI and public engineering meetings. I didn’t see you at any of them.
As you know, the data from Ricci-Greene was wrong, but it’s these trumped up numbers that drove the sizing of the jail, first 138 now 98. When pressed they had no raw data. They lied and they were fired, but we’re still using their baseline to drive this monster’s size in Coxsackie.

The actual current number of detainees is 33. With aggressive defense and ATI intervention, this will drop much further. The conversation about the size of Hudson’s facility is largely moot since their numbers are also dropping. Isn’t it better if we incarcerate fewer people? Our safety needs are already well met.

The shared service with Columbia County is not a lessening of prestige for Greene County it's a giant step towards accountability, both in terms of justice and in terms of economy.

Albany, Hudson and the majority of GC citizens are wholly supportive of the regional jail solution. There’s no doubt whatsoever that a shared/regional jail is completely legal – we’re already doing it.

Every dollar wasted on a new jail is money borrowed, money not spent on addressing the root cause (poverty), and not spent on programs to cure. Coxsackie is further away from our courthouse than Hudson. Transportation costs (done by non-law enforcement) exists for the Coxsackie or the Hudson solution.

As USDA notes, the plans thoroughly incorporate the sheriff's office, But, as you completely understand, the Sheriff's Office must remain in Catskill. It can’t be moved without the success of a public referendum. A public referendum will fail of course, which is a reason it’s not on the November ballot. Both the civil and the criminal portion are moved according to the USDA narrative.

Greene County has a horrible history of poorly delivered justice. Let me provide the short list: Judge Spargo was sent to Federal Jail for taking bribes on the bench. Sheriff Richard Hussey was removed for being a perpetual drunk. Judge Pulver removed himself from my case after I provided evidence of bribes, land abuses and various illegal pictures of minors on his chambers computer. When I deposed Probation Director Allen Frisbee at trial he acknowledged he couldn't remember if he took psychology in college. I had to make certain Charlie Bucca didn’t inherit the position as District Attorney. Replacing Sheriff Greg Seeley and firing Michael Spitz are priorities.

We must rehab the 80 Bridge Street jail retaining the Sheriff’s Office, booking and some holding cells. Then we must formalize ATI as a standing committee to administrate our social and justice systems, and secure the shared/regional jail solution with Columbia County. Any other solution is irresponsible at best.

Scott Myers
414 Main Street
Catskill, NY 12414

C.c. Members of the public and the press

80 South Swan Street, 12th Floor, Albany, New York 12210 │ 518-485-2346 – phone │ 518-485-2467 – fax │ THE WORST OFFENDERS REPORT: THE MOST PROBLEMATIC LOCAL CORRECTIONAL FACILITIES OF NEW YORK STATE February 2018 . Thomas A. Beilein

Five most problematic jails in New York State with repeat ...
A New York State watchdog agency has deemed Rikers Island in New York City and four Upstate NY jails as the worst jails in the state. The Commission of Correction issued a report Wednesday to Gov ...

[2]$53 million at 3.5% for 30 years = $90 million. 98 cages is $918.367 PER CAGE! This doesn’t include operation, maintenance, staff, defense, transportation or program costs to the detainees. Taking $13 million from reserves does not reduce the principle – it’s the county retirement money.
I am not a Corrections Officer, like Mr. Jackson. I own a home here in Greene County, Catskill Village. And I have friends in Coxsackie, Hudson, and throughout the Twin Counties. I don't know what Mr. Jackson is referring to regarding "friction" between the two counties. We share a hospital, and we share a Community College, and a heritage. Mr. Kwesie Gray's statement suggests "we would never share a school district." Under Brown v. the Board of Education, the highest court in our land ruled otherwise in affirming civil rights over districting over half a century ago.

I am really fed up with all the fake "friction" and mistrust being promoted for political gain by certain politicians to manipulate us, the public, into doing things that are harmful to our well-being and sense of society.

A "jail" is NOT a prison. It is for detainees, not prisoners convicted of crimes. The fact that respondents to this article show so much confusion regarding this distinction is especially of concern as many of them are connected with law enforcement.

Jon Phillips - Catskill Village
Someone must save the Greene County Legislature from itself. California just did away with bail requirements for many offenders. This is a harbinger for a dwindling jail population. Joe Arpaio notwithstanding, there is huge sentiment as well as convincing social science behind increasing Alternatives to Incarceration. The facts must prevail over simple-minded cheerleading about County pride and jobs, jobs, jobs. It is an illusion that a platinum-gilded Coxsackie jail will create new jobs. Except for guards who will be looking at each other as a white elephant, resource-draining jail sits at 30% capacity in just two short years. Look at the facts. Use our limited resources for broadband for example rather than a law enforcement Taj Mahal.
If we have 33 arrestees right now and it costs us $75 a day to board them out x's 365 days equals an annual cost of $903,375. Over 30 years, in other words, it would cost under $30M to board out our jail population on a regional basis to the most appropriate facility based on the nature of their health, gender, and legal disposition, etc. Our neighboring counties all overbuilt their jail capacities. Why should we foolishly do the same?

I'm not interested in going broke to pay for a prison guard to have an empty cell to guard. I don't find "home team pride" in having a jail. I think that's a big stretch and in fact insulting to my intelligence.

I've been speaking out against this stupid jail proposal in the Daily Mail since it was first brought up over ten years ago now, and I'm glad to see the point is finally getting through to my fellow tax payers. Now if we could only have our legislators catch a little common sense.