October 16, 2021

Draft study on county jail population ready

Cortland County Jail

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

The Cortland County Jail is pictured in this February 2019 file photo.

The final draft of a study to find ways to reduce the Cortland County Jail population is expected to be in county legislators’ hands by the end of today.

A second study to determine the number of jail beds the county will need in coming years is due at the end of June.

“I anxiously await the reports because once we get them I don’t see anything slowing us down to putting an answer to what our jail issues have been,” Sheriff Mark Helms said Thursday. “This is what they (the legislators) wanted and what we’re lacking.”

Discussions on what to do with the jail have been a topic of debate for years. The 26-year-old jail has 57 beds, but routinely houses 90 or more inmates, with a special permit for a 30-bed dormitory and a three-bed state variance.

Vera Institute of Justice, a non-profit research and policy group, started working on a study — at no cost to the county — in early November and over the last seven months has looked at ways to reduce the jail population.

That study was expected to be handed in today, said Michael Barylski (D-Cortlandville), chairman of the county Legislature’s Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.

The study:
• Interviewed key people on the Legislature, law enforcement, the district attorney’s office, defense attorneys, service providers and the judiciary.
• Continued data collection and analysis and scanned for best practices in the state and nationally.
• Developed recommendations to reduce the jail population.
• Created a blueprint to implement the ideas.

A meeting to review and discuss Vera’s findings is planned for mid-June, said Eric Mulvihill, clerk of the county legislature. Barlyski said a special committee meeting for June 20 has been discussed, but not decided on.

While Vera has been working on its study, Rod Miller president of CRS Inc. of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, has been working on another study since November. He is under contract for $8,700 to file it by the end of June.

Miller’s study will:
• Develop a detailed description of the inmate population.
• Examine current and recent criminal justice system reports and plans.
• Interview individual stakeholders to hear their concerns and suggestions.
• Meet with groups to examine findings.
• Identify policies, programs and services that might reduce the need for jail beds.

He’ll also update the county’s 2007 needs assessment, which at the time recommended the county should plan for about 140 jail beds by 2025 and about 230 by 2035.

“This is sort of a multi-pronged approach,” Barylski said. “We have to look at what are we willing to do as a county, as a legislature to implement some of those recommendations from Vera and CRS.”

He said the most important thing is for everyone to wait and see what the reports say before making any decisions.

“It’s difficult for me to come to grips with what is feasible until we have a grip on those two things — the number and the services,” Barylski said. “Moving forward, what the legislature is going to need to do is to come to grip with not only the size but the level and types of service we want to provide to reduce the inmate population, especially as it relates to those with mental health issues and drug issues.”