Yates County seeks federal Jail and Justice System Assessment

Gwen Chamberlain
The Yates County Public Safety Building, opened in 1977, will be the basis of a Jail and Justice System Assessment that will be performed by the National Institute of Corrections.

Update: This version of the article contains financial information about the debt still held by the county for the county office building and courthouse. The information was not available in time for the print publication deadline. 

Yates County Sheriff Ron Spike has the support of the county legislature to request technical assistance from the National Institute of Corrections, an agency within the U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Prisons, as part of the county’s review of overall long term capital needs.

Spike will make the request for the Jail and Justice System Assessment as part of the NIC’s “New Jail Planning” initiative.

There has been talk of the need for a new county jail, and other studies of local public safety and criminal justice systems have been completed within the past five to 10 years, but County Legislative Chairman Timothy Dennis said he does not see this as the first step toward a new jail. He said the purpose of the assessment is, “To study how corrections impacts the community and how we address it going forward.”

According to a memo from Spike to the Public Safety Committee, the New Jail Planning Initiative includes four units that involve all stakeholders in understanding how the entire local justice system works. “It is a prerequisite to a discussion of local correctional facility needs,” he wrote.

NIC will provide the services to the county at no charge.

A document provided by NIC explains that the goals of the Jail and Justice System Assessment are to help jurisdictions understand their justice system components and begin an inventory of their systems. The process also aims to help people realize that a “jail problem” is really a justice system problem and a community problem.

The jail, with a capacity to hold 65 inmates is contained in the Public Safety building on Main Street in Penn Yan. Construction of the building began in 1975 and it opened in 1977. The jail has been expanded over the years, and improvements to the Public Safety Answering System were recently completed. The building also houses Sheriff’s Office administrative space and Emergency Services offices.

Spike has explained that the linear layout of the jail leads to the need for a higher level of staffing than is found in more modern, “pod” style jails. New York State Department of Corrections dictates the number of staff needed to operate the jail.

County officials are taking these steps now in preparation for when the final payment on the debt for construction of the county office building and courthouse are made in December 2020. The balance due on the debt for the two buildings is $5,761,425.01 according to the Yates County Treasurer's office. 

The legislators present (Mark Morris of Milo and Bonnie Percy of Starkey were absent) voted unanimously to support the initiative, but there were differing opinions about other resolutions related to the Sheriff’s Office and Public Safety:

• Capital Plan: Annually, the legislature, as recommended by the finance committee, approves a plan for capital spending items. While this year’s plan was unanimously approved by those present, District 1 Legislator Elden Morrison of Jerusalem said he wanted a discussion about new vehicles for the Sheriff’s Office and anticipated repairs to the jail showers. Douglas Paddock, chairman of the finance committee, and also representing District 1 from Jerusalem, noted the capital plan is a guide for the budget officer and can be changed. Each of the items will be discussed again during budget workshops.

• Inmate holding agreement: Morrison and District 2 Legislator James Smith of Torrey cast no votes against a resolution approving an agreement to house Genesee County prisoners at a rate of $85 per day. Morrison objected, saying the cost of housing inmates from outside the county is more than $240 per day. But William Holgate of District 4 (Starkey), chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said $240 is inaccurate, that the county does not lose money by housing inmates from outside the county.

Spike, who was not at the meeting, explained later that he uses a cost of $170 per inmate per day in his calculations, and that housing inmates from other jurisdictions when the local census is down generates revenue. Morrison has argued frequently in the past that when the Yates County jail population dips below 35, the jail administrator should shut down the dormitory section as a cost saving measure. The resolution passed.

• Positions: Morrison and District 2 Legislator Terry Button of Potter voted against authorizing Spike to hire a corrections officer to fill a recent vacancy, but they both voted in favor of hiring a full time cook for the jail.

• Budget Directive: Morrison and Button cast the only ‘yes’ votes to a resolution introduced by Morrison to direct the budget officer, Treasurer Winona Flynn, and the sheriff to reduce the net spending for public safety functions for 2018 by a minimum of 5 percent, including pension costs. Morrison said his research leads him to conclude that Yates County’s per capita public safety spending exceeds similar county’s spending by 75 to 80 percent. District 1 Legislator Taylor Fitch of Jerusalem objected to the discussion taking place without the sheriff at the meeting. Smith said he would not vote in favor of the resolution, but he does support a reduction in public safety spending because it would free up funds for other spending.

In other business at the Aug. 14 meeting, legislators heard a report from Southern Tier Network representatives about the progress of the broadband project.

Steve Manning of STN reported that a Public Safety Guidance committee consisting of representatives from emergency services in Schuyler, Steuben, Chemung and Yates Counties may develop a private network that could connect the four public safety answering points.

A representative of ECC Technologies described an initiative being launched by Steuben County for a broadband aggregation and adoption analysis which will also include Yates County. The project could begin soon.