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Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department unveils plan to ease inmate population issue

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The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department has unveiled a plan to convert a recreation room in the Metro-Jefferson Public Safety Building into an area that can hold 30 to 32 inmates, according to Undersheriff Paul W. Trudeau.

The proposal, submitted to the New York State Commission of Correction, would renovate a section of the jail into either a dormitory-style facility or an area with more cells, depending on the recommendation of the commission, Mr. Trudeau said Friday.

“This won’t solve the outboarding of inmates, but it will definitely help,” the undersheriff said.

The department is still outboarding about 52 inmates to facilities elsewhere in the state every day, according to the office of jail administrator Lt. Kristopher M. Spencer.

The cost and difficulties associated with outboarding have been longstanding issues in Jefferson County.

Sheriff John P. Burns has long advocated for an addition to be built at the facility, but county legislators have balked at the cost of construction.

A 2008 study showed that an addition would cost about $12 million. Bonded over 15 years, the annual cost to the county in 2013 dollars would be $1.34 million each year. Jail staff also would have to be increased by 10 people to accommodate the additional inmates — an average annual expense of $765,296 in 2013 dollars.

But continuing to send inmates to facilities as far away as Albany County is not a sustainable practice for the department when the strain on corrections officers is taken into account, Mr. Burns has said.

The proposal was sent to the Commission of Correction, which oversees all county jails in the state of New York, on Tuesday, Mr. Trudeau said.

“We’ve been discussing this for quite some time,” said Jefferson County Board of Legislators Vice Chairman Michael A. Docteur.

Mr. Docteur was a member of a committee that examined the overcrowding problem from 2006-2008.

In 2007, the committee approached the Commission of Correction with a proposal to renovate part of the jail. That commission dismissed that proposal, Mr. Docteur said.

But county legislators met recently with current commission Chairman Thomas A. Beilein, who was more receptive to the proposal, according to Mr. Docteur.

The idea remains tentative.

“I can’t stress enough how early in the process this is,” Mr. Docteur said.

The proposal has not yet been received by the commission, according to spokesman Walter J. McClure.

After it is received, staff will make a site visit to examine the space where the renovation will take place and discuss any issues or concerns they might have, often involving the architects of the plan in the discussion, Mr. McClure said in an emailed statement.

After the field study is completed, staff will make a recommendation for approval or denial to the commissioners, who will vote on the proposal at the next monthly meeting following the completion of the study, Mr. McClure said.

The Commission is scheduled to meet again on Nov. 19.

Legislator Philip N. Reed, R-Fishers Landing, chairman of the General Services Committee, said he supports the plan.

“I certainly appreciated using the original footprint,” Mr. Reed said. “It’s the most inexpensive type of construction.”

Mr. Reed also repeated the undersheriff’s warning that the plan would not completely solve the overcrowding problem at the jail.

“I still want to look at all avenues,” Mr. Reed said. “And that includes asking the state to look at state facilities.”

As prison populations have declined throughout the state, county jail populations have grown, leading legislators to seek the cooperation of state lawmakers in making use of empty portions of state facilities.

It’s an option that is still very much on the table.

“We’re not giving up on the option and feasibility of using either one of the state prisons in Jefferson County,” said County Administrator Robert F. Hagemann III.

Recent discussions with the state Department of Corrections, which oversees the state prison system, have been encouraging, Mr. Hagemann said.

Open space at the Cape Vincent Correctional Facility and the Watertown Correctional Facility could potentially be used to house county inmates, though the discussions are still very preliminary, according to Mr. Hagemann.

“We would be a pilot program. They’re willing to consider it but it’s a work in progress,” Mr. Hagemann said.

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