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How To Deal With Overcrowding At The Tompkins County Jail


The Tompkins County Jail is overcrowded. The firm doing a study on how to bring the numbers down is presenting their findings Thursday evening.

For a long time, the state granted the jail a waiver to go overcapacity, but last year told them to find a long term solution.

So, the legislature hired a Rochester consulting company - the Center for Governmental Research - to analyze the programs inside and outside the jail - programs like substance abuse treatment, house arrest bracelets, and drug courts.

The major finding of the study: don’t add more beds to the jail, instead, expand the programs.

Overall, Paula Ioanide, Assistant Professor at Ithaca College and member of the criminal justice reform group, Decarcerate Tompkins, appreciated how comprehensive the study is. She also liked the recommendation to use bail less frequently.

“The data that they did have on bail amounts showed that people are getting these $500-$1000 bail amounts set for misdemeanors," said Ioanide. Many of those people are only in jail for a few days, Ioanide said, so the jail population would decline if the default option was to not use bail.

She's concerned, however, that there aren’t enough recommendations to address race disparities on who gets arrested.

County Legislator Anna Kelles, who is on the jail study committee, also thought the report looked solid. During Thursday night's presentation, she plans to ask CGR about the finding that changes won't cost very much.

"For example, they acknowledge that, ideally, we’d get another nurse. That’s another staff person. So, to say the cost of that is negligible is not realistic," Kelles said.

There are many  recommendations and everything is on the table for discussion, according to Kelles. She was hopeful the legislature and different government agencies could work together to implement changes.

Another questions is whether the state Commission of Correction (NYSCOC) thinks the ideas are good enough to bring down the number of people in jail.

If the state doesn't accept the study, County Legislator Jim Dennis said they'll have to spend a lot of money boarding people in jails in other counties.

"It's like burning money," said Dennis. He added that he doesn't want to spend millions of dollars to build a bigger jail.

The county has a waiver, or variance, from the NYSCOC until October 1 to run above capacity.

In a statement, the commission said, "The county must decide whether the results of those studies impact the need for the variance. If the county seeks to extend the variance beyond October 1, the Commission will consider all information provided by the county to make its decision."

Here is the summary of the study: