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Committee Begins to Look Toward Responses to Jail Study Report

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Committee Begins to Look Toward Responses to Jail Study Report

Thursday, August 17, 2017

In an intense, two-hour session today, the Legislature’s special Jail Study Committee began to examine what comes next, now that it has received the findings from a comprehensive six-month study by the Center for Governmental Research (CGR) regarding capacity issues at the Tompkins County Jail.

The CGR jail population study, commissioned by the County in response to possible revocation of the Jail’s long-standing 18-bed variance by the New York State Commission of Correction, found that Tompkins does not need to build a new jail or expand the number of beds in the existing jail, due both to projected county population over the next 25 years and savings in bed days that can result from effective use and expansion of incarceration alternatives.

“This is sort of where the committee takes flight,” Committee Chair Rich John remarked, reflecting on the next phase of the committee’s work. It will be up to the committee to examine the approximately 25 recommendations of the CGR study, and advise the Legislature regarding how to move forward.

The committee, without dissent, recommended Legislature’s passage of a resolution formally accepting the report and commending CGR for “its thorough and thoughtful work.” The resolution states that “it is the commitment of this Legislature to pursue policies and programs such as those recommended by CGR, in order to reduce jail population as the alternative to expanding the capacity of the Jail.”

At today’s meeting, Undersheriff Brian Robison presented some preliminary rough sketches suggesting how the interior footprint of the Public Safety Building might be modified if Sheriff’s administration, the Road Patrol, and Civil Division were moved out of the building to other quarters. As well as reconfiguring space for functions such as expanded medical facilities, that approach could repurpose about 5,500 square feet of building space for new program services, he said. The County has already set aside funding for a related architectural study to follow up the Jail Population Study, and committee members informally agreed today that they would like to examine the space issue further.

Probation Director Pat Buechel and Deputy Commissioner of Mental Health Sharon MacDougall briefed the committee on their intended responses to the CGR recommendations. As part of the 2018 budget process, Buechel said she is requesting an additional full-time Senior Probation Officer position, to focus on pretrial release with electronic monitoring and increase Probation coverage for the Ithaca Community Treatment Court. Mental Health is proposing a Forensic Psychiatric Social Worker position to serve exclusively at the Jail, providing mental health and substance use screening to all inmates, and full assessments, as needed. A Re-Entry/Release Services caseworker is also being sought, which would serve all Jail inmates, collaborating with other programs and services and linking to community resources.

Deborah Dietrich, director of OAR (Opportunities, Alternatives, and Resources), said her budget requests related to the CGR recommendations include continued support, as target funding, for the highly successful College Initiative program, and funding for a trained advisor for OAR’s Endeavor House, opening this fall, which will provide transitional housing for those returning to the community from the Tompkins County Jail. County Administrator Joe Mareane noted that nearly $800,000 in requested over-target spending related to the Jail Population Study recommendations will be considered as part of the 2018 budget process.

The committee today, by unanimous vote, also recommended Legislature approval to amend the County’s agreement with CGR for the jail population study, to reflect the increased scope of work conducted by CGR and increasing it by $15,000 to a total of $78,000. It was noted that CGR, in part, had conducted more than 60 in-person interviews as part of the study, more than twice the number that had been anticipated. Chair John said he had no reservation about approving the increase: This report was different in size and intensity, compared to CGR reports prepared for other counties, he observed. “They went above and beyond for Tompkins County,” he said.