Dan Hust | Democrat
Taking the tour of the Delaware County Jail and Public Safety Building (seen behind them) on Tuesday were, from the left, Legislator Kitty Vetter, Acting Sullivan County Manager Josh Potosek, Delaware County Sheriff Tom Mills, Legislator Cora Edwards, Sullivan County Jail Administrator Hal Smith, Legislator Cindy Gieger, Legislator Scott Samuelson, Legislator Kathy LaBuda and Delaware County Jail 1st Sgt. John Lehmann.
Junket to jail
Story by Dan Hust
DELHI October 11, 2013 Five of Sullivan County’s nine legislators literally went to jail Tuesday.
At the invitation of Delaware County, legislators Scott Samuelson, Kathy LaBuda, Cindy Gieger, Cora Edwards and Kitty Vetter headed north, escorted by Acting County Manager Josh Potosek, Public Works Commissioner Ed McAndrew and Jail Administrator Hal Smith.
The group was met by Delaware County Sheriff Tom Mills and jail staff inside the county’s Public Safety building, set on a scenic knoll overlooking the county seat of Delhi.
Built on 17 acres a decade ago for $23.5 million, the 107,000-square-foot complex houses the Sheriff’s civil and patrol divisions, the county’s Emergency Management Office, the Probation Dept., related Information Technology infrastructure, and the Jail.
While legislators toured most of the offices, their focus was on the 103-bed jail a possible model for the 250-bed facility Sullivan County is under state pressure to build.
Located next door to a senior housing complex, the jail features no razor wire, guard towers or other obvious signs that it’s a penitentiary.
And around a third or more of its population consists of out-of-county inmates, whose importation brings Delaware County upwards of $600,000 a year, according to Jail Administrator Harold Stanton.
That’s in contrast to the $700,000+ the county used to spend on exporting prisoners from its prior jail, a century-old facility that could house just 28 prisoners.
Delaware County replaced that jail almost exactly a decade ago, with the support of its Board of Supervisors (a countywide governing body with authority similar to Sullivan County’s Legislature).
While Sullivan County officials acknowledge the need for a replacement to the 104-year-old jail in Monticello, they’re split on where to site it and how much to pay for it.
Tuesday’s tour illustrated some of the benefits and challenges that await.
Among the interesting facts legislators learned:
• Like Sullivan County, Delaware County kept delaying building a new jail for decades. Sheriff Mills said Delaware finally went ahead when the state threatened to force a replacement jail’s construction.
• The $23.5 million cost of the jail (and public safety complex) was almost entirely borne by taxpayers, who have 10 years left to pay off a 20-year bond.
• The only grant funding the county received for building the jail was $56,000 from the state for energy-efficient lighting.
• The jail currently does not double-bunk but has the capacity to do so, along with enough land to add another wing.
• Federal prisoners awaiting trial are housed there, along with state and local inmates. Adult and juvenile men and women are accommodated separately.
• One officer can supervise 25 inmates at a time (compared to one officer for every six inmates in Sullivan’s cellblock, due to the facility’s setup), supported by a roving officer on patrol.
• The jail features no bars; instead, there are solid metal doors and walls with large windows, which the sheriff says cuts down on inmate hostility and aggression, since they don’t feel as “caged” as they would in a traditional jail.
• The state requires each inmate have a certain amount of visiting hours per week. Delaware County’s visitation room can accommodate enough people to meet that mandate by being open just two days per week, as opposed to Sullivan County’s much-smaller quarters, which must remain open five days a week to meet the state’s requirements.
• The prisoner transport vans can be driven into a garage with direct access to the jail’s booking room.
• The rest of the complex houses every county-level public safety service except 911, which is handled by the State Police in Sidney. Meeting rooms equipped with Smartboards and broadband Internet access are available to all county agencies to use.
After the two-hour tour, legislators were left with much to consider, but Sheriff Mills urged them to keep travelling.
“See as many jails [in the state] as you can,” he said. “That’s what I recommend.”