New Pub­lic Safety Build­ing eyed

Work could be­gin early this sum­mer

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Paul Post @paul­v­post on Twit­ter

BALLSTON SPA, N.Y. » Saratoga County is mov­ing for­ward with plans for a new Pub­lic Safety Build­ing, as one su­per­vi­sor says more jail space is needed in­stead.

A Rochester firm re­cently com­pleted a $40,000 study for the Sher­iff’s Of­fice that eval­u­ates all as­pects of the county jail, in­clud­ing in­mate hous­ing trends and needs.

The fa­cil­ity cur­rently has 188 pris­on­ers, well be­low the 205 thresh­old needed for dou­ble­bunk­ing, which some­times oc­curs in sum­mer when the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion swells from va­ca­tion­ers and out-of-town vis­i­tors. The study was dis­trib­uted Tues­day to su­per­vi­sors on the Pub­lic Safety Com­mit­tee.

“We’re well within our num­bers right now,” said Col. Richard Emery, the Sher­iff’s Of­fice jail ad­min­is­tra­tor. “The state [De­part­ment of Corrections] just wants us to do long-term plan­ning. This study is the first step.”

At the same time, ar­chi­tects are cur­rently de­sign­ing a new Pub­lic Safety Build­ing, cost­ing up to $30 mil­lion, which would house the sher­iff’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, pro­ba­tion, emer­gency ser­vices and pub­lic health de­part­ments. The project is sched­uled to go out for bid soon, so a contractor can be cho­sen and be­gin work by early sum­mer.

Su­per­vi­sors must still ap­prove fund­ing for the job.

“It isn’t nec­es­sary,” said Clifton Park Su­per­vi­sor Phil Bar­rett. “The jail is a higher pri­or­ity. We’re a grow­ing county. The state has had to ap­prove waivers mul­ti­ple times for double-bunk­ing. Why not be proac­tive?”

At a county meet­ing last fall, Bar­rett said a larger jail is needed to com­bat the re­gion’s heroin and opi­oids prob­lem.

“Give the sher­iff more per­son­nel and ex­pand the jail,” he said.

“If you sell drugs in Saratoga County you will be caught. We’ll fill the jail if nec­es­sary.”

But Board of Su­per­vi­sors Chair­man Ed Ki­nowski, RStill­wa­ter, has said other de­part­ments are over­crowded, the sher­iff’s ad­min­is­tra­tion in par­tic­u­lar. Putting sev­eral de­part­ments un­der one roof in a new Pub­lic Safety Build­ing near the jail would cre­ate more ef­fi­cient over­all op­er­a­tions, project sup­port­ers say.

Pre­vi­ously, county Ad­min­is­tra­tor Spencer Hell­wig de­scribed a new Pub­lic Safety Build­ing as “a drop in the bucket” com­pared to the ex­pense of adding more cell space.

“There are times when double-bunk­ing is re­quired, but it’s typ­i­cally not year round,” he said Wed­nes­day.

If the sher­iff’s ad­min­is­tra­tion moves to a new Pub­lic Safety Build­ing, the space it now oc­cu­pies might be con­verted to cell space, which would be less costly than build­ing a new ad­di­tion, he said.

Emery said two de­vel­op­ments in the ju­di­cial sys­tem might re­lieve hous­ing pres­sures at the jail, too.

New state reg­u­la­tions man­date that 16- and 17-year-olds may no longer be held in county jails be­gin­ning this Oct. 1 and Oct. 1, 2019, re­spec­tively. They must in­stead go to an­other type of fa­cil­ity or a com­mu­nity-based pro­gram.

Also, Dis­trict At­tor­ney Karen Heggen said Gov. An­drew Cuomo is propos­ing bail re­form that would change how bail is set for cer­tain types of crime. The net ef­fect would be of­fend­ers spend­ing less time be­hind bars.

With waivers, the jail can hold up to 255 pris­on­ers. Even when double-bunk­ing is re­quired, the pop­u­la­tion never ex­ceeds 210, Emery said.

Sher­iff Michael Zurlo said Ni­a­gara and Broome coun­ties, with pop­u­la­tions about the same size as Saratoga County, both have 500bed jails.

“We’ve been very for­tu­nate in this county that our in­mate pop­u­la­tion has been as low as it has been,” he said.

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