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Plan to close Jamesville Correctional Facility would move inmates to downtown justice center

Two men, one in a blue suit and the other wearing a sheriff uniform, stand behind podiums and talk.
Scott Willis
Onondaga County Sheriff Eugene Conway and County Executive Ryan McMahon McMahon speak hold a press conference at the Onondaga County Justice Center.

Onondaga County proposed closing its Jamesville Correctional Facilityand transferring inmates to the downtown justice center due to the low inmate population and a staffing shortage, officials said Friday.

The idea of consolidating the facilities comes several years after Onondaga County Sheriff Eugene Conway previously proposed the idea.

“Consolidation-wise, it seemed to make sense," Conway said. "They’re doing the same work, being provided the same meals, being provided the same health care. But obviously, two separate bargaining units."

According to Conway, there are 475 beds, and only 58 sentenced inmates at Jamesville serving sentences of a year or less. All 85 correctional officers at Jamesville will be offered jobs downtown, will be able to keep their rank and will get a $10,000 raise. He said the justice center has more than enough capacity to absorb the Jamesville population.

Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon said the decision goes beyond efficiency. The county is struggling to meet obligations under a 2014 legal settlement that required in-person arraignments for defendants and their lawyers.

Part of that is transporting inmates," McMahon said. "When the sheriff does not have people that can transport the inmates, it’s something that logistically you cannot do. Certainly, we made obligations years ago that we would do this, and got us out of litigation that would be very expensive to the taxpayers and we need to live within that.”

Conway, who will retire at the end of this month, said recruitment and retention of custody deputies at the downtown jail is part of the problem. For example, he talked about how the next custody academy class only includes six people. Conway said the limited staff means more lockdowns for the safety of inmates and employees. However, that also sends red flags to the state department of corrections.

Each day brings more risk, more liability to the county and to the sheriff’s office, which never makes me comfortable, and has never made me feel comfortable." Conway said. "I’m so confident that we have exhausted every possible attempt to try to get more staff and carry out what we’re required to do.”

Conway believes they won't see any dramatic future swings in the inmate population that could lead to overcrowding downtown. He said his administrative staff and the county's personnel department have briefed incoming Sheriff Toby Shelley on the consolidation plan. It's expected to go before the County Legislature in the coming weeks.

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