CaseythoughtsNot yet being in receipt of any overnight reviews from my first contribution to the Lansing Star Online, I'll once again dive deeply into another topic that has been on my mind for, say, almost twenty years. I have watched and participated in this topic since at least the mid-nineteen nineties, if not earlier. I'll call it 'I told you so', or, perhaps, more succinctly, 'Kick the can down the road.' To wit, the Tompkins County jail issue.

This past week the county administrator informed you, dear Tompkins County taxpayer, that the time had come to pay up, put up: NY state had finally closed the door on one more extension of permission for the inadequate facility known as the Tompkins County Public Safety building. The Jail. More than fifteen years of boarding out prisoners and state waivers for the facility was going to come to an end as of December 31, 2017. This demand by NY State would, according to Mr. Mareane cost Tompkins County taxpayers somewhere in the neighborhood of $500,000 a year. Such a number from the county's head bean-counter is believable and sobering to say the least, but certainly not surprising, as this amount had been bandied about for years, in opposition to what an expanded facility might cost (which costs also went up yearly).

I can hear the current crop of nay-sayers decrying the services which will not be rendered because of this half million dollar hole in the county budget, which must be filled by the budget which is currently being debated and to be approved in November. I will assume (possibly wrongly, but I admit to being wrong about twice a day) that the $500,000 does not include the overtime pay for deputies while they travel to and from neighboring counties (with adequate facilities) to tran'ort our own inmates to court hearings and other necessary appointments. It probably does not include wear and tear on patrol cars (usually kept for a quarter million miles, then sold for a pittance at auction), fuel at state bid prices, and the extra expense of replacing these traveling deputies on road patrol and other public safety duties. A half million dollars doesn't go as far these days ("a million here, a million there, pretty soon we're talking real money..."), but it does pay other counties handsomely for room and board at around $150.00 a day per Tompkins County inmate.

I addressed this issue with former Sheriff Peter Meskill on my radio show ad nauseum in the late 90's and early 200's; when listeners would tell me to get off my high horse about the issue, and many in Tompkins County continued their fight against any expansion of the county jail. This jail was purposely built to inadequate 'ecs' in the 1980's. The 'old county jail' on Court Street was scheduled to be demolished until an enterprising Board of Reps member actually consulted the blueprints and realized it couldn't be demolished: it actually housed the heating plant for the courthouse next door. So, the county 'ent a couple of million bucks to refurbish it into a county administration building and the new county jail was built at the airport, almost immediately filled to capacity and has been a source of "sturm und drang" ever since.

The opponents of jail expansion have kept up the steady drumbeat of reasons why the jail should not be expanded for years, saying that there are any number of solutions to overcrowding, even as the county continued to pay tens of thousands of tax dollars yearly (can anyone in county government actually tell us how much has been 'ent on tran'ort, overtime and daily fees to surrounding counties for these board-outs while the legislature fiddled with another 'study'? My guess is that they will say they can't get that number...).

Alternatives to Incarceration, drug courts, OAR assistance with bail money: all were instituted and funded in the early 2000's with assurances that their humane way of dealing with crime and its human perpetrators would lessen the burden of jailing otherwise good citizens, would prove our progressive ideals, and alleviate this blot upon our social conscience as well as solve the continuous overcrowding. Oh, and keep the state off our backs. While kicking this can down the road, our neighboring counties built new and more accommodating facilities, happily taking out hard earned tax money (well over $100 per inmate per day). To make matters more ludicrous, the usual crowd of "anti's" in Tompkins County kept demanding study after study (at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars) to prove that Tompkins County was not doing enough to keep people out of the jail, thus causing the overcrowding. These studies continued to point out that, supposedly, the jail population would stabilize and that Tompkins County could continue to ignore the coming day of reckoning with the state.

Drug Courts were established (with controversial results), OAR was expanded and funded so more could be let out on bail, but no let-up in the number of inmates (thus boarded out) continued. It seems that no one paid attention to the fact pointed out in more than one study that many (even,. possibly, a majority) of inmates were probation violators and thus must remain in jail (no bail, no "alternative to incarceration"), and a good number of these inmates were sentenced to less than a year of imprisonment, thus keeping them out of the state prison system, relegating them to terms ranging from thirty days up to a year. The outcry for probation versus jail as a sentence alternative backfired, as probation violations (and thus the stress put upon the county probation department) soared, forcing the county to apply for variance after variance, double bunking, and inmates deprived of the opportunity to be visited by their families due to distance involved in travel that their families could not afford or accommodate.

An expansion of felony drug court does not seem to be the answer. I participated in felony drug court and with two defense attorneys and two probation officers, the court is operating in an overcapacity mode, as well as staying within rules that restrict those who may be eligible for this alternative to jail. These standards set a high hurdle, eliminating sex offenders, violence-prone offenders, and repeaters, to name a few in the multi-page guidelines filled out by probation. Family Drug Court is close to capacity, and is succeeding to an extent, and is rarely a factor in jail population. I've been at the county jail more than a few times, and have been shocked at how inadequate the facilities are, perhaps purposely designed to be so. A call for people interested in helping set up 12 Step meetings for inmates last year was a standing room only affair, with forty people trying to fit into a room which only had capacity for twenty, at most. Go ahead and try to visit an inmate there: the visiting room is a travesty, and a real shame for those who have to put up with the indignities of overcrowding, and was also purposely designed for maximum discomfort for those who visited. Oh, and by the way, you need to set up an appointment days ahead of time to get permission to visit for an hour.

But the anti-jail advocates continue their good-hearted wailing, to keep true to their politics, never heeding the possibility that expanding our public safety facility might actually be humane and reasonable re'onse to the expanding number of people who find themselves in the web of drugs, crime, hopelessness and often leaving the facility facing the problems which we are NOT being addressed in the county: no hope of low income housing (forget 'affordable housing'...that's a euphemism ignoring that reality of low/no income in an un-affordable city; Section Eight housing has a three year waiting list in Tompkins County), a decent entry level job or real public support. Just platitudes of "solidarity" and "social re'onsibility", while the seeds and foundation of low level crime, drug use and inadequate housing in the county continue to feed recidivism and real de'air in certain neighborhoods in the city and county. The anti-police attitude of certain member of the community (who always seem to populate the "committees" on public safety and jail expansion) continue to feed on a sense of guilt and confusion of the Tompkins County community. These "antis" have been singing the same tune for years. Thankfully, some are finally leaving the county legislature while more "antis" continue to sing the same old song I call "Kick the Can".

Well, the party is over, folks. Tompkins County will have to ante-up now, after years of merrily prancing down the road of irre'onsibility and singing 'Tomorrow' while continuing to reap the increased revenues of an expanding tax base, and so many souls continue to wallow in an inadequate public safety building, (not to mention unrealistic social policy of our elected officials) unless of course they are 'lucky enough' to be boarded out to other counties to the tune of a half million plus smackers a year. Your money.

Of course, there is one more possibility: the ostriches on the county legislature (besides blaming Albany for everything) could raise taxes, as usual, thus creating a line in the county budget which until now has not had an official title: 'Ignorance Fees: Boardouts', and continue the charade that is hurting everyone, most of all the souls caught in the system that are being victimized by the self-righteous, blinded, monochrome thinking about justice. That includes inmates, public safety officers, and lastly, county taxpayers who have paid for this waaaaaay too long. You have less than a month before the County Legislature votes on this. What will you say to them. What are they saying to you?