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Jamesville Correctional Facility merger on hold, says sheriff

A beige and brick six story building.
Chris Bolt
The exterior of the Onondaga County Justice Center.

It appears the plan to merge Onondaga County’s Jamesville Prison with the downtown Justice Center is on hold. 

Back in February, the county legislature approved a personnel resolution that eliminated the positions at Jamesville and re-created them at the Justice Center. The county executive gave an April 1 deadline to close the correctional facility, but Sheriff Toby Shelley said it’s apparently not happening.

“A week ago, received a letter from the county law office saying that the whole thing is on hold," Shelley said. "It didn't give a date for how long.”

Shelley said the state commission of corrections identified repairs at the justice center that required the decertification of two pods, or 120 beds, until the work is finished. Without those beds, he said it’s impossible to merge the jails. He also said the other pods will likely undergo similar repairs.

Shelley reiterated that even when all beds are available at the justice center, it’s still not enough to absorb Jamesville’s population and accommodate inmate classification issues.

“On paper like well, we have all these extra beds. And the reality is you really don't know what happens when you put people together that don't like each other," Shelley said. "They fight. Now they're getting hurt. We have to intervene in the fight. We're potentially getting hurt. On and on.”

A man in a Sheriff's uniform speaks into a microphone in an office.
Scott Willis
Sheriff Toby Shelley speaks to WAER's Scott Willis.

He said that adds to the already high $21 million annual cost for inmate health care, and opens up the county to lawsuits. Shelley said the jail population is likely to grow for another reason: the very high number of warrants.

“When COVID hit, they let a lot of people out of our jail and they asked those people you need to come back to court come back to jail eventually," Shelley said. "Well, guess what happened? They didn't show up. So we have 7,500 warrants in Onondaga County and we're starting to see some of those warrants get answered. This police officers are stopping people or however they're finding these people with the warrants. There's a good chance you're gonna see us do a couple of warrant days.”

Shelley said when he was a warrant detective more than 20 years ago, the number of warrants was about a quarter of what it is now. He said that, combined with rollbacks to bail reform by the state, could lead to an overcrowding problem without Jamesville.

Plus, Shelley said, if Jamesville closes, it can’t be reopened without significant renovations to meet current standards. He also said his priority is, and always will be, public safety.

The county executive’s office was unavailable for comment.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at