December 1, 2021

The crime rate in Cortland County has dropped 50 percent since 1992, yet the number of jail inmates the county is responsible for has more than doubled.


What’s causing that?


The county’s jail is rated for 57 inmates, yet routinely houses 90, 100 or more, some in exercise space re-purposed as a dormitory, others at other counties’ jails.


How do we fix that?


Following a six-month investigation with the assistance of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Cortland Standard reporter Nick Graziano has found the causes of the burgeoning jail population aren’t as simple as crime, and the solutions aren’t as simple as not putting people in jail.


In this five-part series, we investigate some of the mystery behind bars.

Day 1: Mental Health

Of all the people who have come through the Cortland County jail, the first to come to Undersheriff Budd Rigg's mind was a man from out of town who broke a window at Tops supermarket.

The man was under the influence of drugs, and brought to jail. But during the man's initial screening, Rigg said it was discovered there may be more of an issue than just drugs.

Diverting mentally ill inmates to other programs could take 20 people out of the jail. There's no place to send them.

Day 2: Reducing the population

Cortland County officials say they have exhausted all options to reducing the Cortland County Jail population and provide more alternatives to incarceration.

Several ideas have been discussed. Some implemented. Some already in place.

And some can't be done right now.

Day 3: Needing new ideas

In about two years with a $1 million grant, Lucas County in Ohio implemented new ideas to reduce its jail population about 18 percent.

If Cortland County were to implement the same ideas, not much would be accomplished.

The county already does almost everything Lucas County implemented.

Day 4: Pre-trial reform

Bail practices and pre-trial services have been debated nationwide, including Cortland County, with some county officials wondering if there is more that could be done to limit the number of people sitting in jail.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo presented a plan for bail reform at the beginning of the year, which failed to move forward because it was not added to the state's budget. He's trying again.

Day 5: A day at the jail

We hang out for a several hours with several corrections officers, catching what their day is like in the jail — and what it's like for the 90 inmates, too

About the reporter

Nick Graziano has been a staff reporter with the Cortland Standard since March 2016. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Oswego State University and a master’s degree in automotive journalism from Coventry University in England.

In the past two years, he has won awards for investigative reporting, human interest feature writing and spot news from the Syracuse Press Club.