A funny thing happened on the way to completing construction of the new Greene County jail. Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday proposed legislation that would allow neighboring counties to share jail services on the condition that they form mutual cooperative agreements.
It’s too bad the Greene County Legislature couldn’t have been more patient before authorizing a $39 million bond issue, contributing $8.1 million to the price tag, adding new debt and running up bills taxpayers have to cover. With interest over 30 years, the $39 million bond issue will cost taxpayers $55,474,535, plus the $8.1 million contributed by the county, which brings the total cost of the jail up to $63.6 million. And that’s just to build it. It does not include the costs to run the jail.
Then again, patience doesn’t run in this family.
For a reality check, the lawmakers should talk to Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple, who supports the idea of sharing jails. Apple’s secretary, Kim Desantis, said Wednesday the Albany County Corrections and Rehabilitative Services Center’s current inmate population is 370, a significant 33% of its maximum occupancy of 1,040. Two dozen inmates were released under the state’s new bail reform law, Desantis added.
Greene County released three inmates due to the reforms, Sheriff Pete Kusminsky said.
The new jail, expected to start accepting inmates next July, is designed to have 64 beds, two pods of 32 each for males and one pod of 16 for female inmates. But wait. Greene County’s inmate population was 25 on Wednesday, with inmates being boarded in jails in Albany, Columbia and Ulster counties. If the jail were in operation today, with those numbers, it would be at 39% of its maximum occupancy, a poor performance at any price.
The state Commission of Correction, by law, requires jails to be 10% vacant at all times.
The shared jail section of County Law 217 County Law 217 was a major bone of contention between pro-jail legislators and anti-jail advocates. A lobbying effort, led by former Legislator Lori Torgersen of Windham in June, resulted in bills that would authorize Greene County to share a jail with an adjacent county. The bills earned the support of state senators Luis Sepulveda, Jamaal Bailey, Zellnor Myrie and Assembly members Patricia Fahy, Joseph Lentol, Mark Weprin, Michael Blake and Clifford Couch.
Despite the debt and the added burden on taxpayers, despite an endorsement of the shared jail concept from Albany County’s top lawman, despite facts clearly indicating that the number of inmates for this jail was trending downward, despite a full-court press in Albany by one of their own lawmakers, despite drafting of bills that would allow Greene County to share a jail supported by three state senators and five Assembly members, the Greene County Legislature could not, or would not, see the forest for the trees.
Those weren’t the only signs that were dismissed.
In a letter, Greene County Attorney Edward Kaplan asked Allen Riley, chairman of the state Commission of Correction, for a list of statutes in April 2018 that would need to be modified to allow a shared jail, possibly by Greene and Columbia counties.
“The list was provided the following day,” Riley wrote back. “To my knowledge, the commission has received no further requests for technical assistance regarding the necessary legislation from either Greene or Columbia counties.”
In the minds of some anti-jail advocates, the legality of sharing jails was already answered. Allow us to add this codicil: Asked, answered and ignored.