MALONE — A mandate-relief idea is under study that may add state aid to counties or rework the burden of housing youths and female inmates in local jails.
Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) is gathering information on county-jail inmates between ages 17 and 19 after speaking to sheriffs in her district in hopes of convincing Gov. Andrew Cuomo to revise certain mandates, said Franklin County Legislator Paul Maroun (R-Tupper Lake), who also serves on her staff.
Jailed youths cannot be housed with adults, according to State Commission on Corrections regulations.
Cell blocks in the Franklin County Jail hold either five, six or seven inmates at a time. But if more than seven youths or women need housing, the jail must either board the overflow out to another county at $85 a day or use part of a five- or-six-person cell block for them, said Franklin County Undersheriff Patrick White.
That could mean two to five empty beds a day in that additional cell block — beds that could be used to house adult male offenders or earn revenue through housing out-of-county inmates.
THREE WAIVERS YEARLY
There were 14 inmates between the ages of 17 and 19 in the 131-person count at the County Jail earlier this week. Out of the 78 people at Essex County Jail, two were considered underage inmates: one 17-year-old and one 16-year-old.
Clinton County had 200 inmates in its population that same day, with 12 who fit into the youth category. Seven were 19, and five were 18, jail officials said.
The state permits county jails three 30-day waivers a year to keep either youths or females local instead of boarding out, which helps the jail manage its inmate flow and costs.
But once those three waivers are spent, counties are stuck with empty beds and expensive boarding fees at adjacent counties, such as Clinton, St. Lawrence or Essex.
“And the problem for us is we can’t find anybody to take our youth because of their own counts,” White said.
Counties don’t want to use up their waivers too quickly during the year, he added, in case a unique situation crops up.
That could mean sending females and youths farther away from their home county, which adds to the cost of transporting them back and forth for court dates and other legal matters.
“We’re continually trying to balance, especially when we can’t get other counties to take our overflow locally,” White said.
EMPTY BED DAYS
The irony is that if youths held in County Jail are sentenced to state prison, they are immediately placed in the general population with inmates of all ages.
But if they are sentenced to serve their time in County Jail, they must be separated from adults, he said.
White said a review of six months of inmate-population figures shows that Franklin County had 585 empty bed days between March and September due to the state restrictions.
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