TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. — As Tompkins County continues efforts to lower the local jail population, the county has requested a one-year extension of a variance that allows the Tompkins County Jail to operate with extra beds.

Sheriff Ken Lansing submitted the request to the New York State Commission of Correction and said the county is committed to implementing recommendations from the recently released jail study. County officials also say they are working on ways to put dollars behind that commitment in the 2018 Tompkins County Budget.

The study concluded that the county does not need to expand the jail, saying the jail population will continue to drop if the county keeps investing in alternatives to incarceration programs, detox and drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities and other improvements to the criminal justice system.

“We are optimistic the State will recognize the tremendous amount of work that has been done by CGR, the Legislature, and the community to identify ways to reduce our Jail population,” Lansing said in a news release.  “I’m hopeful the Commission will continue to give us time needed to implement the recommendations that came out of this process and for those actions to begin producing results.”

To accommodate the number of inmates, since 2009 the Tompkins County Jail has operated with a variance that allows 18 additional beds. Without the variance, the county would have to board more inmates out, which is costly. However last summer, the New York State Commission of Correction revoked the variance, which put pressure on the county to find ways to reduce its jail population, or expand if necessary.

To address the issue, Tompkins County Legislature formed a Jail Study Committee and hired a consulting firm to study the current and projected jail population. The results of the six-month study were released in mid-July.

Related: Tompkins jail population expected to drop

The report made many recommendations to reduce jail population, including creating a medical detox facility, bail reform and expanding the use of electronic monitoring. Several of the recommendations related to county programs and are currently being reviewed for consideration in the 2018 Tompkins County Budget, a county news release said. However, other items like creating additional detox and rehab beds, will rely on state funding and approval processes. Likely a multi-year process.

In a letter to the Commission of Correction that accompanied the variance request, Legislature Chair Mike Lane said “the County’s draft 2018 budget to be presented to the County Legislature in September will include a very substantial increase in earmarked funding to get off to a fast, strong start in implementing CGR’s recommendations.”

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.