October 18, 2021

Study: Build new jail

Cortland Standard file photo

A man enters the Cortland County Jail in this May 2016 file photo.

Even if Cortland County can reduce its jail population by half, it still needs a new jail, a consultant said in a report filed late Friday.

“It’s not a matter of implementing alternatives or building a new jail. Both are needed,” said Rod Miller, president of CRS Inc.

Miller was hired in September for up to $8,700 to determine how many beds the jail may need in coming years. That assessment would help legislators decide whether to build a new jail, which could cost more than $50 million.

The previous assessment was done in 2007 and recommended the county plan for 140 beds by 2025 and about 230 by 2035, however six of the seven models on which it based its estimate were proven too low over time.

The existing jail was built in 1992 with a planned capacity of 50 inmates. It has been crowded since 1997, but can hold up to 89 with special permission from the state.

Miller said the jail would need 152 beds by 2039. That reflects reductions another consultant — the Vera Institute of Justice — recommended, but not the effect of state legislation to take effect next year to reform bail and other judicial processes.

“It provides a benchmark against which to measure the potential impact of alternatives that might reduce future demand,” Miller said.

The need for a new jail comes even if the county can reduce its inmate population by half, as the Vera report said was possible.

Regardless of capacity, Miller said the current jail is lacking because:
• Space meant for programs has been converted to housing.
• Short-term holding space is inadequate.
• There’s no room to expand.
• The jail lacks sufficient separations to house female inmates.
• The design is inefficient, based like a doughnut around an outdoor exercise space, and with many blind spots.

“We hope that efforts to safely reduce jail occupancy succeed in the coming year. But legislators need to think strategically, considering the ‘what if’s’ and developing a backup plan,” Miller said.