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Corrections law should allow county lockups to hold municipal defendants

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It’s good that local legislators are pushing to amend a state law prohibiting individuals arrested by Watertown city police from being detained in a Jefferson County holding cell before they are arraigned.

Jefferson County Sheriff John P. Burns informed county and city officials earlier this year that suspects arrested by Watertown officers could no longer be held at the Metro-Jefferson Public Safety Building if they had not yet been arraigned. A provision in the state corrections law precludes municipal defendants from being guarded in county facilities before going before a judge.

This forced city officials to find alternative accommodations for their suspects. They are now being detained in two holding cells in the City Court wing of City Hall.

State Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, and state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, both have introduced bills in their respective chambers to allow city defendants to be held once again at the PSB. If approved, this would reinstate an arrangement that the city had with the county for 22 years.

But while correcting this problem in Watertown is vital, the legislators should consider revising this whole section of the corrections law. It really is outdated, and more jurisdictions are opting out of it.

To date, 14 of New York state’s 62 counties have received exemptions from the statute under Municipal Home Rule legislation — that’s 22 percent. Jefferson County would be No. 15, and this list is likely to grow.

So rather than watch the law slowly become more irrelevant one county at a time, members of the state Legislature should recognize that its time has passed. They should amend the corrections law to remove this prohibition and allow county sheriff’s departments to carry out the duties they’re equipped to perform.

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