Here and Now: County Costs and The Judicial System

Housing out 150 and 200 inmates daily, on average, costs the County approximately $8 million a year. The annual jail population, including inmates housed in other counties has jumped 24% from 2002 to 2011. Two years after the jail opened in 1987, the jail experienced overcrowding issues. Those issues continue today even with the expansions made to the jail 1995. The county has been paying to house out inmates since 2002. This is an illustration of the challenges and fiscal impact facing the county, improper budgeting and mismanagement of our criminal justice system.

Last year, the Dutchess County Criminal Justice Council (DCCJC), a group of county criminal justice leaders, released a Needs Assessment Report (CJC Report) which stated that redesigning the 292-bed jail is cost prohibitive. While the CJC Report undoubtedly identified challenges in the criminal justice process from arraignment through trial and sentencing and ultimate release back into the community, the bulk of the report’s focal point was on building a new facility at a cost of $78 million to $202 million, before cost overruns. The CJC Report also fails to consider an addition.

A subsequent report by a jail design firm, Ricci Greene Associates, was commissioned by the County Legislature to review and assess the DCCJC Needs Assessment Report. Ricci Greene’s report said the county needs 598 to 625 jail beds at a cost of $150 million to $200 million and gave a strong and comparable alternative in rebuilding at the current jail site. However, this report fails to consider an addition. Both reports state that the use of Alternatives to Incarceration (ATI) programs should be enhanced and expanded as it would help reduce the need for more jail beds. In fact, a few can be implemented today at little to no cost.

In June, a Resolution for a $1.2M bond related to jail construction was approved by the legislature. I along with a few others voted no for the cost of yet another study on the county jail. There have been a number of studies, ALL suggesting an addition. Previous studies need to be read/digested and updated. This is not a $1.2 million study. The administration needs to stop kicking the can down the road and make a decision before the election. We all agree that this was too much for another analysis of the county jail especially given the fact the county budgeted $750,000 for this process.

Note: 1) The current jail site is 7 acres while other county jails occupy as little as 1.5 acres and house more inmates; 2) A regional approach to jail expansion is no longer an option; 3) The proposed jail would be the largest capital project ever undertaken by the county; and 4) County Comptroller, James Coughlan (R), said “$1.2 million to be spent on the next jail study may be excessive, depending the scope of the analysis and a new jail will have a price tag of between $125M and $200M. Interest payments alone on $125 million will be $9 million a year, forcing big spending cuts or tax increases. With county residents financially struggling, the county executive and legislature cannot just go to taxpayers with a big tax hike.”