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Sun., Oct. 4
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Ritchie to Corrections Commissioner: move parole violators out of county jails


“Right now, according to our local sheriffs, there are 44 parole violators being housed in local jails in Oswego, Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties, costing county taxpayers from $90 to $130 a day for each ... to house excess inmates at facilities outside the area,” she said in a letter dated Thursday to Brian Fischer, commissioner of the state prison system. That, she wrote, is “over $1 million a year for taxpayers in just these three counties in unnecessary and unfair expense.”

The senator is asking to meet with Mr. Fischer to discuss using unoccupied space at Watertown Correctional Facility, Dry Hill, to relocate those parole violators, and said she soon will visit the Dry Hill facility to discuss potential availability there.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision declined to give Mr. Fischer’s reaction to Mrs. Ritchie’s letter, and wouldn’t say whether he would be open to her idea.

Jefferson County Sheriff John P. Burns, who has been seeking solutions for his packed jail during the majority of his 10 years as sheriff, said Friday he was surprised and pleased by Senator Ritchie’s initiative. His first inclination that something was developing came Thursday when his staff informed him the senator’s office was asking questions about jail population and costs.

“I am certainly happy that Senator Ritchie has taken on this issue,” he said. “We need to have the state to house their parole violators and relieve the cost burden to county taxpayers,” he said.

Two weeks ago, St. Lawrence County Sheriff Kevin M. Wells disclosed his facility had joined a growing list of county jails that are dealing with overcrowding.

The $1 million cited by Senator Ritchie is precisely what Jefferson County spent last year to “house out” inmates to other counties, said Lt. Kristopher M. Spencer, jail superintendent at the Metro-Jefferson Public Safety Building. This year’s expense, as of the end of July, has been $464,688, he said.

The jail on Friday was housing out 42 prisoners, including 20 women, leaving 113 men and 14 women in the Watertown facility. The state has set the PSB’s maximum population at 144, so on Thursday, some inmates were moved to other counties so there would be room for arrests made during the holiday weekend, the lieutenant said.

Nineteen parole violators were being held Friday in the PSB, including six who are confined on no other charges and are therefore “state-ready,” he said. The average length of county confinement of parole violators has been in the range of 35 to 45 days, he said, but he found a record of one prisoner who was jailed for 70 days. That parole violator never went back to prison, Lt. Spencer said. The man ultimately was released on his own recognizance.

The state has not reimbursed counties in recent years for housing parole violators, Sheriff Burns said.

Sen. Ritchie’s challenge to the state comes little more than a month after the New York State Corrections Officers Police Benevolent Association lodged its own assault upon Mr. Fischer’s office.

But its concern focused on declining numbers of officers working in the state prisons, “driving up the inmate-to-officer ratio and increasing the risk of violent incidents inside correctional facilities.”

Watertown Correctional Facility was one of four in the state that saw closure of parts of the prison. Forty-six beds were consolidated temporarily, Linda Foglia, a Corrections Department spokeswoman, said in an email. No employees were laid off as a result, she said.

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