The following is a republished press release from the Tompkins County Legislature and NOT written by the Ithaca Voice … click here to submit community announcements directly to The Voice, or contact me at msmith@ithacavoice.com.

ITHACA, NY – In a July 19, 2016 letter to Tompkins County Sheriff Kenneth Lansing, the New York State Commission of Corrections announced its revocation of a variance that has allowed the County to operate the County Jail with 18 beds more than the 82 beds the facility was designed to accommodate.  The Commission directed the Sheriff to eliminate all double-bunking in cells by September 1, 2016.

In briefings to the Tompkins County Legislature’s Public Safety and Budget, Capital, and Personnel Committees, Undersheriff Brian Robison, Jail Captain Ray Bunce, and County Administrator Joe Mareane characterized the State’s decision as abrupt and costly.  The annual expense of housing, or boarding-out, 18 inmates in out-of-county jails is estimated to be $558,000.  This cost would be in addition to the $255,000 per year the County now spends to board out inmates.

Sheriff Lansing said the revocation of the permit follows many years of safe operation of the jail and an inmate population that has remained relatively low due to the success of the County’s several alternatives-to-incarceration programs.  “Over the many years that we’ve operated under the variance, we’ve consistently demonstrated we are managing the facility at the highest standards of quality, inmate safety, and officer security.  We have maintained our accreditation, which is the gold standard of performance.  We’ve certainly given the State no reason to pull the variance.”

“This is a very disappointing development,” said Mareane, “particularly in light of the extraordinary work that is done in this County to utilize any number of current and emerging alternatives to incarceration to keep our jail population low.”  Mareane cited the recent appropriation of $100,000 by the County Legislature to expand the County’s re-entry efforts and reduce inmate recidivism and the pending addition of 25 rehabilitation beds at Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services.

Mareane expressed concern about the budgetary impact of the State’s decision, particularly in light of the State-imposed property tax cap.  “No matter which course we follow, the revocation of the variance has a staggering impact on costs.   Boarding out is very expensive.  But the alternative, which the State seems to see as a 45-bed addition to the Jail, would likely cost $10-$12 million.  At that price, County property taxes would increase by $1.2-$1.4 million, or as much as 3%, to cover annual debt payments and the cost of new staff.”

Lansing and Mareane said it is likely that as a part of any agreement to restore the variance, the State will require the County to undertake studies that will project the future population of the jail and to design expansions that could house that population without resorting to boarding out inmates.  It is believed that only four county jails in the state currently have variances to operate with more beds than originally permitted, and only Tompkins is not in some stage of planning, designing, or building additional jail space.

Tompkins County Legislature Chair Michael Lane said the County will ask the Commission of Corrections to reconsider its decision during a meeting now planned for late August.  Prior to that meeting, he expects the Legislature to consider appropriating funds for the jail population and architectural studies.  “We are hopeful that the State will look favorably on the County’s good faith allocation of money to undertake the two studies, as well as the potentially significant impacts of the new re-entry initiative, the new rehab beds at Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services, and other local alternatives-to-incarceration.”

Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.