New Public Safety Building eyed
Work could begin early this summer
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.