Democrat File Photo
THE STATE HAS mandated that the county place its jail, at right.
Counties join together to study regionalizing jails
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Could Sullivan County actually make do with a smaller jail than it has now?
That’s one of the questions Dr. Gerald Benjamin and his crew at SUNY New Paltz’s Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach may be investigating.
On Tuesday, legislators unanimously agreed to authorize county leaders to apply for a state Local Government Efficiency Grant to undertake a feasibility study regarding a “regional approach” to county jail services.
Ulster and Orange are co-applicants on the $50,000 grant request, each county willing to provide up to $2,000 in local funding for the study.
Should the grant be awarded, the three counties (and possibly other Hudson Valley counties considering joining the study) will find out whether or not it would be cost-effective and feasible to share facilities, services and/or personnel.
Though a centrally located regional jail is likely not in the future, County Manager David Fanslau envisions a situation where perhaps men would be housed in one county’s jail, while women would be in another, and minors in another.
He said the effort was spearheaded by Mid-Hudson Pattern for Progress (whose executive director, Jonathan Drapkin, is a resident of Rock Hill and a former Sullivan County manager himself).
“Legislature Chairman Jonathan Rouis has participated along with me and other county executives, managers, administrators, and legislature chairs to discuss regional issues of importance to the Hudson Valley counties,” Fanslau explained. “Collectively, this group of county leaders discussed the grant opportunity, along with the need to reduce the overall capital and operating costs of county jails.”
Sullivan County is facing a state mandate to replace its 100-year-old jail in Monticello. While local officials agree a new facility is long past due, the county has been struggling to keep estimated construction costs below $100 million.
Legislators earlier this year won a key concession from the state Commission on Corrections, reducing the required beds from more than 400 to 350.
But with construction plans yet to be finalized, county officials continue to cast about for cost-effective alternatives.
“Sullivan County presently plans to build a 303-cell facility for about $80 million,” Fanslau explained. “If the outcomes prove that it is feasible to have a regional jail system, then theoretically Sullivan County may be in a position to dramatically reduce the size and scope of that 303-cell facility, and at the same time dramatically reduce the overall cost of the capital expenses involved with the jail project, ultimately providing relief to the county’s property taxpayers.
“However, the Paterson administration will need to be supportive and realize that the NYSCOC’s [New York State Commission on Corrections’] positions on continually building county jail capacity at the same time that there are large vacancies in the state correctional system is counterproductive to the overall tax status of New York State,” Fanslau added.
He hopes to hear back on the grant application by the second quarter of 2009.