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Onondaga County Legislature committee advances moratorium on sale of Jamesville prison

The guard shack at the entrance to Jamesville Correctional Facility in early February 2023.
Scott Willis
The guard shack at the entrance to Jamesville Correctional Facility in early February 2023.

Onondaga County lawmakers are considering the renewal of a moratorium on the sale of the Jamesville Correctional Facility while its proposed closure is being challenged in court.  It's the latest move in the ongoing debate over the future of the site.

The Ways and Means Committee pushed forward a measure that puts the disposition of the property on hold for at least another year. Republican floor leader Brian May told colleagues at Tuesday’s meeting it makes sense to wait.

“It's not because of rumors that we heard back then about sale," May said. "It’s hey, folks, let's do one thing at a time here. In the meantime, let's not get ahead of ourselves by disposing of a piece of county…not that anyone's doing it. Not that there's any rumors of anyone doing it, but this is just the right thing to do within the process that we've undertaken thus far.” 

Residents may recall county executive Ryan McMahon first proposed closing Jamesville Correctional a little over a year ago by merging officers and inmates at the downtown justice center. County lawmakers followed suit two months later, narrowly approving a personnel measure that essentially forces Jamesville’s closure by firing officers from their Jamesville positions then rehiring them downtown.

All of this was a non-starter with the newly elected sheriff at the time Toby Shelley, who has since filed a lawsuit seeking to block the closure citing public safety concerns. Legislator Brian May says their vote last year still stands.

“The change that was proposed did have implications for Jamesville and still does have implications for Jamesville," May said. "Those issues are in play, and they're in the courts, and that will be decided, however it's decided. But in the meantime, there are other issues to be considered and I think it was very important. I thought as a sponsor it was very important for all the stakeholders to know where this body stood.” 

The full legislature is expected to take up the moratorium renewal next week. That’s also around the time oral arguments are scheduled in Sheriff Toby Shelley’s lawsuit. He argues the county executive and the legislature don’t have the legal authority to close Jamesville, which he oversees as sheriff.

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