|COUNTY TOLD JAIL VARIANCES WILL EXPIRE IN SIX MONTHS
The New York State Commission on Corrections told Tompkins County officials today that the County must speed up plans to renovate its jail. The Commission told the County that - regardless of the progress it is making toward solving overcrowding at the jail - variances that have allowed for the housing of additional inmates will be withdrawn in December. Legislature Chair Tim Joseph, Sheriff Peter Meskill, Chief of Corrections Deb Niemi, and Legislator Barbara Blanchard traveled to Albany today to meet with the three-person Commission and its staff. The Commission has extended variances to Tompkins County, starting in 1996, that have allowed for a maximum of 103 inmates in the jail. Without the variances, the capacity at the jail will fall to 73. Blanchard, chair of the Public Safety Committee, said the state Commission pointed out that such temporary variances are typically used to increase inmate capacity by 5 to 10 percent. Tompkins County's variances increase its capacity by 40 percent, said Blanchard. Blanchard's committee is working with a consultant on a redesign of the jail and the rest of the Public Safety Building, located on Warren Road in the Town of Lansing. The Commission has offered to send staff to assist the County in speeding up the design process and to look for ways to house more inmates in the building with minimal changes. Sheriff Peter Meskill was asked by the Legislature to comment on the "worst case scenario" of a removal of all of the variances. "It will be expensive," said Meskill. The cost to board an inmate to another county's jail is $75 - 80 per day per inmate, plus transportation and overtime costs, said Meskill. Costs for boarding out inmates under the previous sheriff's administration ranged from $250,000 in 1995 to almost $700,000 in 1997. Boarding out costs under Meskill's management have dropped to almost nothing, due to changes in bunking and reconfigurations allowed by the variances. Blanchard and Joseph expressed some hope that the Commission would allow the County a little more time beyond December. Contacts: Barbara Blanchard, Chair, Public Safety Committee, 277-1374; Tim Joseph, Chair, Tompkins County Legislature, 277-2519; Steve Whicher, County Administrator, 274-5551.
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