Sullivan County Democrat
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Frank Rizzo | Democrat

Meeting the press after Wednesday’s public session were, from the left, Sullivan County Manager David Fanslau, Undersheriff Eric Chaboty, Rich Kenney of the Commission of Correction, and Commission Chair Thomas Beilein.

A jail, or a ‘dungeon’?

By Frank Rizzo
MONTICELLO — January 29, 2010 — How bad are the conditions in the county jail?
The state’s top official overseeing the prison system took a look on Wednesday, and immediately ordered one third-floor wing in the 1909 section closed.
“The jail looked like a dungeon to me,” said New York State Commission of Correction (COC) Commissioner Thomas Beilein.
He was speaking before the county legislature, and an overflow crowd in the legislative hearing room that evening.
“I don’t know how many of you have been to the jail (pause)… as guests,” Beilein said to laughter, then painted a grim picture of what he later said were the worst conditions he had seen in all the jails he had visited:
“I saw exposed wires… things that cannot be readily repaired or secured. It was 85 degrees in there, with steam pipes exposed, and windows were open to try to equalize the temperature.”
Beilein went on to praise the personnel working the jail as “great employees,” but pronounced that having them – and inmates – exposed to the jail conditions “were completely unacceptable to me.”
Jail Administrator Colonel Harold Smith Jr. filled the audience in on the consequences of these conditions:
“From 2007 to 2009 we had three officers injured, and their injuries were directly related to the physical plant,” Smith said. “It has cost the county $676,000 for their medical expenses and to replace them. Two of the officers are disabled, and will not be able to work again. These people have permanent injuries just because they decided to work at the Sullivan County Jail.”
The COC has mandated the county build a new 250-inmate jail because the existing one, on Bushnell Ave. in Monticello, does not meet many of its minimum standards.
A press release by the county stated that renovating and repairing to come up to COC standards “come with a high cost and fail to address the need for additional capacity.” In addition, “the building’s location provides no room for expansion, and, as such, additional space will not be provided at the site.”
Beilein, the former sheriff of Niagara County, saw first-hand the construction of a new jail in his purview. The politician in him showed flashes of compassion for the decisions the legislators would have to make.
“Building a jail is something the public doesn’t want to do. I understand that reluctance,” Beilein said. “I know the pressures on county government. I understand the stress exerted on your budget every year
“But a jail is a very basic part of the infrastructure of the county, like the roads and bridges,” he added.
County Manager David Fanslau said the latest estimates on constructing a new jail are $70 million. The county bought land off Exit 104 in Monticello on which to build the proposed facility.
He said the annual debt service payments (based on a 30-year period) is about $4.5 million/year. The best-case scenario calls for the jail to begin operating in 2014 with annual operating costs and debt service totaling $16,618, 259. This would result in a one-time increase in the property tax levy of about 10 percent.
County legislators were vocal in lamenting the costs of the new facility on a debt-burdened and revenue-poor county.
“Until we retire the other debt the proposal is hard to swallow,” said David Sager. “I don’t see how we could afford it right now. We have to bond an 80 million dollar project with a 17 percent tax increase (Sager missed Fanslau’s presentation, thus the differing figures)… I don’t see how we could do it,” Sager said to applause.
Alan Sorensen agreed.
“People are at the breaking point,” he said, suggesting that the county take an incremental approach to building a new jail, starting small and then expanding.
Among the measures proposed in lieu of a new jail was fixing what was possible at the existing one and boarding – sending prisoners to other county jails.
But Sheriff Mike Schiff – and Fanslau – cited the high costs of transporting prisoners. Building a new facility, according to figures cited by Fanslau, would be more cost effective in the long run.
In Tuesday’s Democrat: More from Wednesday’s meeting.

About the COC…
The New York State Commission of Correction has a mission to provide for a safe, stable and humane correctional system in New York State.
To this end, the Commission:
• Promulgates minimum standards for the management of correctional facilities.
• Evaluates, investigates and oversees correctional facilities.
• Assists in developing new correctional facilities.
• Provides technical assistance.

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