Sentencing delays up jail costs, crowding

Staff Reporter

Every day a prisoner awaits sentencing in the Cortland County Jail, it costs the county money — between $75 and $100, according to jail and county officials.
Out of the 58 inmates in the Cortland County Jail, nearly 70 percent have not been sentenced, and at least 20 of them are in the jail on felony offenses, Jail Administrator Capt. Roy Lewis said Wednesday.
By the time some inmates are sentenced to state prison for their felony convictions, they have already served the length of their prison sentence in county jail, said County Administrator Scott Schrader.
“I’m having to pay for that, as opposed to the state,” Schrader said.
Cortland County District Attorney David Hartnett said there is a problem, but it cannot be pinpointed to one source.
The court systems are overloaded with cases, and do not have enough resources to get the inmates sentenced more quickly, Lewis said.
“(We) try to move cases promptly, but everyone in the criminal justice system is more apt to say the problem lays elsewhere,” Hartnett said. “Everybody is working to try to minimize the problem and it’s a cooperative effort — it’s just difficult to do because there is not just one single reason for the delays.”
Beyond cost, sentencing delays have contributed to overcrowding at the jail, which routinely operates at a nearly full capacity. The jail can house 61 prisoners, and up to 73 with a state variance.
An average stay in the jail is about 31 days, and at least 20 of the inmates have been sitting in county jail on felony charges for longer than that, Lewis said. The figure refers to a general stay, whether they have been sentenced or not, he said.
As of mid-May, the longest stay of an un-sentenced man charged with a felony was 176 days.
Lewis said the inmate has since been sentenced, but there are still many more un-sentenced inmates who have been jailed in excess of 100 days, he added.
The lengthy stays and growing number of criminals does not only lead to jail overpopulation, but comes down on the taxpayers to foot the bill, Lewis said.
All jail funding comes through the Sheriff’s Department’s budget, which is $2.3 million in 2006-07, Schrader said.
“Taxpayers pay for it all and that’s the weighing factor unfortunately,” Lewis said. “Basically jails should be set up to not have more than 50/50 (sentenced to un-sentenced ratio),” Lewis said. “Since we have 70 percent waiting for sentencing, that really backs it up.”
Schrader said possible solutions include hiring another county court judge, or more staff in both the district attorney and public defender’s offices. More staff on both ends would lead to quicker court proceedings, he said.
No decisions have been made.
The county has hired a consultant to study the jail and evaluate the factors that determine the rate and level of daily admissions, the length of stay, and ultimately, the ensuing daily population. The county is paying $30,000 to the contractor, Carter Goble Lee, based in Washington, D.C, Schrader said.
The company will start in a few weeks, he said.
“I think it’s a combination of things — between the District Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender’s Office, as well as the court itself,” Schrader said. “That’s part of the process that will take place with the consultant. We really need to examine the entire justice system.”
Hartnett said he would welcome more staff in his office, which he said would help to prosecute cases more promptly. He said that  would solve part of the problem.
“It’s been a problem as long as there has been courts. There’s limited resources, and the only thing we don’t have a shortage of is defendants,” he said.
The jail is overcrowded, Lewis said. As of Wednesday afternoon, nine inmates were being shipped to surrounding county jails, including Tioga, Madison and Cayuga counties. One of those was a male who is a minor and the rest were females, he said.
The average daily cost to house an inmate out of county is about $85, and that does not include transportation fees, Lewis said.
Inmates are categorized into four basic groups — males, females, adults and minors, Lewis said. After the initial break down, violent inmates who have been charged with assault have to be separated from the rest of the inmates.
The County Jail, which was built in 1990, was never meant to house females or minors, Lewis said. It is nearly impossible to keep the groups separated without having some overflow that needs to be shipped to other counties, Lewis said.
Schrader said it costs about $250,000 a year to transport prisoners out and pay for their stay.
Talks of a new jail have been in the works, and that would save the county money from shipping inmates to surrounding counties, but would not solve the root of the problem, Schrader said.
More jail space would just mean that more people could potentially sit in jail longer, he said.
“Certainly if you just build a new jail to handle to the overcrowding issue — all you’re doing is addressing a symptom, you’re not addressing the cure,” Schrader said.


To read this article and more, pick up today's Cortland Standard
Click here to subscribe



City to replace aging Beaudry building

Staff Reporter

The city is applying for state funding to replace the building at Beaudry Park with a larger, more modern facility.
The current building is outdated and rundown, said John McNerney, director of the Cortland Youth Bureau.
With many community activities utilizing the building, an update is needed, he said.
The city has applied for a $120,000 environmental protection fund grant from the state, said Bernie Thoma of Thoma Development Consultants, which, with a required $120,000 match from the city, would account for the $240,000 building.
The city would match the grant with about $100,000 from two private donors, Thoma said, and with in-kind services.
“We’ve been talking about this for a long time,” McNerney said of the potential for a new building. “We’ll keep our fingers crossed and hopefully the state will come through. It’s certainly a worthy project.”
McNerney presented preliminary plans for the building at the May 16 Common Council meeting, where the council approved a resolution to apply for the grant.



To read this article and more, pick up today's Cortland Standard
Click here to subscribe


County prepares plan for quarantine

Staff Reporter

Mr. and Mrs. Smith return home to Cortland and are met by police and county health officials. In their recent trip to Asia they were exposed to a rare airborne disease.
But what happens now?
That was the question before a group of health, police, county and legal officials Thursday morning in a public health exercise at the Cortland County Public Safety Building on Greenbush Street.
Put together by the county Health Department, the seminar provided an opportunity to fine tune procedures for a local response to an isolation and quarantine emergency.
“It’s better to do these things in advance, just in case you ever have to implement. Then we are all working on the same page,” said Brenda DeRusso, assistant emergency management coordinator.
The discussion focused on what agencies need to be notified and by whom, what arrangements need to be made for the person affected, media relations and more. The group went through two scenarios, approaching the situation from a number of angles.



To read this article and more, pick up today's Cortland Standard
Click here to subscribe