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St. Lawrence County jail is full

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CANTON — Depending on the day, the St. Lawrence County jail is at or near capacity, prompting a possible re-examination of electronic home monitoring.

On Friday morning, the jail’s population was 165 inmates. An additional five were expected to serve weekend sentences. The jail can house 186 inmates with double-bunking in 22 cells, but not every bed can always be used because of inmate classification and gender.

“We’re utilizing every bit of space,” Sheriff Kevin M. Wells said.

The jail was opened in 2009 with a capacity of 164 inmates. The state Commission of Correction approved the double-bunking when necessary in 2010.

The facility on Commerce Lane was built because overcrowding at the former jail on Judson Street forced the county to house inmates at other counties’ jails at costs that sometimes exceeded $1 million annually.

The county has sent some inmates to the Franklin County jail, Malone, but that has been basically a wash in return for St. Lawrence County housing Franklin County female prisoners, administrator Daniel L. Dominie said.

Before the latest population surge, the jail was averaging an inmate count in the 140s, Mr. Wells said.

He attributed the county’s jail population rise to many factors, including more arrests, a sluggish court system and increasing numbers of high-maintenance addicted inmates reflecting a high use in the county of opiates.

Once summer vacations are over and the courts pick up, Mr. Wells predicted that jail populations will level off but will probably still stay higher than they have been in the past.

County Court Judge Jerome J. Richards has asked the county Board of Legislators to look into again starting up a program of electronic home monitoring. The program was scrapped in 2010 when the Probation Department determined it was being used too extensively to supervise accused individuals before they were sentenced.

Probation does not want to see the program reactivated.

“I don’t like it. My staff doesn’t like it,” Director Edward C. Gauthier said. “These are not people to be safe in the community. If they should be out of jail, we get them out of jail.”

In the past, those on the electronic program were frequent reoffenders, he said. The Probation staff, which already has a high caseload, is not interested in being on call in case someone violates the rules of the program. The Sheriff’s Department ends up handling those people in any case, Mr. Gauthier said.

District Attorney Nicole M. Duvé did not return a call asking for comment.

Public Defender Stephen D. Button said he thinks electronic home monitoring would relieve pressure on the jail and be more fair to defendants.

“I believe it gives our clients a greater opportunity to avoid jail while they’re awaiting trial,” he said.

His office may see 400 more cases this year than last.

“The year prior was the highest year to date,” he said. “We’ve seen a real big jump.”

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