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Meeting on Jail Overcrowding Focuses on Parole Violators

Oswego County Undersheriff Gene Sullivan, at far left, attends a meeting with police and political leaders to discuss ideas to end indefinite housing of state parole violators in local jails.  Pictured from left to right with Senator Patty Ritchie and Senator Mike Nozzolio, who are at center, are Sullivan, St. Lawrence County Sheriff Kevin Wells, Jefferson County Sheriff John Burns, Lieutenant Kristopher Spencer and Jefferson County Undersheriff Andrew Neff.  Photo supplied by Ritchie's office.
Oswego County Undersheriff Gene Sullivan, at far left, attends a meeting with police and political leaders to discuss ideas to end indefinite housing of state parole violators in local jails. Pictured from left to right with Senator Patty Ritchie and Senator Mike Nozzolio, who are at center, are Sullivan, St. Lawrence County Sheriff Kevin Wells, Jefferson County Sheriff John Burns, Lieutenant Kristopher Spencer and Jefferson County Undersheriff Andrew Neff.

Jail officials from three counties told state officials Monday they need help to deal with the multi-million dollar cost of housing state parole violators in their jails.

Sheriff’s Department officials from Oswego, Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties met with State Senator Patty Ritchie, who brought State Senator Mike Nozzolio to the Watertown meeting.  Nozzolio is the longtime chair of the Senate committee that deals with crime and safety issues.

Jails across the state are incurring double costs from the problem.  Ritchie’s office estimates that 783 state parole violators are being housed in county jails at local taxpayer expense, which has forced those counties to house 626 of their own inmates in other jails, at significantly higher expense.  It could cost the three counties $2 million a year to house state parole violators while shipping their own inmates elsewhere, according to the estimate.

“The state needs to pick up the slack and take those state inmates back where they belong,” said Nozzolio.

A cell at the closed Watertown Correctional Facility, which officials say could be used to house state parole violators and remove the burden from local jails and local taxpayers.  Photo from video supplied by WWNY-TV.
A cell at the closed Watertown Correctional Facility, which officials say could be used to house state parole violators and remove the burden from local jails and local taxpayers. Photo from video supplied by WWNY-TV.

Ritchie’s bill to force the state to take its parole violators within ten days has passed the Senate twice but failed in the Assembly.  There’s also a proposal to force the state to use unused state prison space, such as the empty Watertown Correctional Facility, which the legislators and police officials toured after their meeting.

Oswego County Undersheriff Gene Sullivan represented the county at the meeting.  He said he was optimistic about the ideas he heard, saying that the plans “need to be tweaked, but we’re starting with a very decent template that not only is going to provide some relief for our jail,” but for other jails as well.

He said the county was also exploring alternatives to keeping some low-level violators in jail, such as enhanced electronic monitoring of offenders.

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