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Jail Oversight Committee Could Add Further Supervision to Operations at the Justice Center

three men in a conference with microphones
Scott Willis

The Syracuse community could soon provide more oversight of the Onondaga County Justice Center under a local law introduced Monday to county lawmakers.  
Legislature Chair Ryan McMahon presented a draft of the measure at a public safety committee meeting, framing it as a way to increase communication between local organizations, and also act as another check and balance to avoid making costly mistakes…

McMahon said Monday that the community has been advocating for a measure like this one for three decades, and that it’s time to “bring a sense of confidence to the community,” while addressing any additional concerns different parties and law enforcement may have along the way. 

The United As One Coalition has been pressuring lawmakers for more than a year to create a mechanism to oversee jail operations in light of inmate deaths at the hands of deputies.  Most recently, Cheunice Patterson and Raul Pinet, Jr. died at the Onondaga County Justice Center. Barrie Gewanter with the New York Civil Liberties Union in Syracuse has been one of the most vocal advocates of an oversight committee: 

Barrie Gewanter says the losses of life at the Onondaga County Justice Center must be addresses in the form of a system that prevents similar failures in the future.

Gewanter said Monday that she feels that the legislation is strong, largely because in the committee will be able to take investigation results and then make recommendations on policies, procedures, and training at the jail using the facts.  She refers to the training provision as a key “quality improvement tool,” to make the jail better and safer for both inmates and jail staff. 

woman in green shirt holds sign that says "it is time for independent review of actions at the jail"
Credit Scott Willis / WAER News
A demonstrator at the meeting discussing the proposed committee to oversee activities at the Onondaga County Justice Center

While Sheriff Kevin Walsh has expressed opposition to additional oversight, others within the department say otherwise.  Esteban Gonzalez is Chief Custody Deputy with the Sheriff’s Office, and runs the jail  He  says oversight is good in any capacity – except if it duplicates other oversight or services already being done. 

Esteban Gonzalez says the committee could be an important step in giving the community a much-needed voice in matters at the jail.

The public safety committee didn’t take any action on the measure.  Chairman McMahon wants lawmakers to have plenty of time to digest the 12-page document, ask questions, and hopefully vote in October.  If approved, the committee would have to be formed in 90 days.  

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
Hannah vividly remembers pulling up in the driveway with her mom as a child and sitting in the car as it idled with the radio on, listening to Ira Glass finish his thought on This American Life. When he reached a transition, it was a wild race out of the car and into the house to flip on the story again and keep listening. Hannah’s love of radio reporting has stuck with her ever since.