TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. — In recent years, Tompkins County has avoided boarding out too many inmates because of a variance allowing extra beds at the Tompkins County Jail. However, that variance is ending soon — much sooner than officials would like.

The New York State Commission of Correction consented to a final three-month variance extension Tuesday. It expires after Dec. 31. Reducing the population of the Tompkins County Jail has been a priority for the past year, but it will take more time, maybe years, for initiatives to have an impact on the daily census of the jail.

The revocation was somewhat of a surprise, County Administrator Joe Mareane said. He said he thought the county had shown — by creating a committee, conducting a study and setting aside money in the budget — that it is committed to reducing the Tompkins County Jail population.

The jail’s long-standing variance allows it to operate with 100 beds. Without the variance, that number will go down to 82 beds. However, because of classification requirements, jails usually operate at 80 percent capacity, Capt. Ray Bunce of the Tompkins County Jail said. Bunce said Tuesday if he was not allowed to operate with the variance beginning immediately, he would have to board out eight to nine inmates.

After the variance was initially revoked last year, Tompkins County Legislature created a Jail Study Committee and hired the Center for Governmental Research to study the Tompkins County Jail population and local criminal justice system. The study was completed this summer and found that a new jail or expansion is not necessary because the jail population is dropping and will continue the downward trend. However, it will take time.

Related: Tompkins jail population expected to drop

Mareane said while the county is on the right track investing in alternatives to incarceration and other programs, the jail is not ready for the reduction in beds yet.

“I think it’s going to take time for any of these (alternatives to incarceration) to really have an effect,” Mareane said.

The Tompkins County 2018 budget is currently being reviewed by legislators. Reducing the jail population is a budget priority for next year. The proposed budget requests $782,000 to implement recommendations from the jail study report. Recommendation include adding a criminal justice coordinator, a probation officer, an additional jail nurse and a re-entry housing project.

Soon, the county may have to budget for the cost of board outs. If it’s necessary to board out 18 inmates per year, it will cost the county more than $550,000 per year. That’s not a cost Tompkins County officials have budgeted for, Mareane said.

Mareane said the New York State Commission of Correction seems firm in not extending the variance beyond 90 days.

“But we really owe it to the organizations, the taxpayers to do whatever we can to get them to reconsider that and extend the variance,” Mareane said.

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.