Onondaga County lawmakers could vote soon on jail merger plan. Sheriff says slow down
Onondaga County lawmakers continue to gather more information about a controversial proposal to close the Jamesville correctional facility in order to partially address a staffing shortage. The sheriff wants more time to consider inmate and staffing implications if they’re moved to the downtown justice center.
Sheriff Toby Shelley told the legislature’s ways and means committee Tuesday that after only 31 days on the job, he doesn’t have enough information to know if such a move would compromise public safety.
"I am willing to fully participate in a feasibility study conducted by the New York State Department of Corrections as to this plan," Shelley said. "I will fully support the findings, regardless of the outcomes of this due process. To enter such an action without this study is reckless and irresponsible."
Shelley said it could result in multiple courses of legal action against the county. But officials from the county executive’s office say that’s the very reason they’re considering the plan. The county has been warned that it is violating a lawsuit settlement that guarantees inmates timely appearances in court. But legislature minority leader Chris Ryan said the new sheriff had found at least a temporary solution by using existing staff. Missed court appointments went from 26 in December under the previous sheriff to two in January.
"Closing Jamesville because we may get sued, for me, is a solution in search of a problem," Ryan said. "Because they are doing it, and I think that we keep getting lost in that conversation that people aren't missing their court appointments."
But the county executive’s office said there are still very few new corrections officers in the pipeline, and that combining the facilities is the best way to address the shortage. Legislature chairman Jim Rowley acknowledged the challenge facing the new sheriff, and is also open to a feasibility study.
"He just thinks he's being pushed into this, and I don't know if he is. I'm trying to understand his point of view a little bit," Rowley said. "For me, if the Department of Corrections would step in with a letter or something to that effect and say, 'Hey wait, hold on a second. We want you to look at something different,' that might have some bearing on my thinking at this point in time."
For now, Rowley said items to amend the charter and administrative code regarding jail staffing are still heading for the legislature’s Feb. 7 agenda.