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Genesee, Orleans officials meet to discuss possibility of shared jail

Staff Reports Posted 9 March 2017 at 4:56 pm

Photos by Tom Rivers: The Orleans County Jail was built in the early 1970s and has a capacity for 82 inmates.

County leaders from Genesee and Orleans counties met this afternoon in Batavia to discuss the merits of pursuing a regional jail facility.

The concept of a shared facility has been discussed informally in the past. But, this is the first time county leaders have met formally on the subject.

Genesee and Orleans Counties have a long and successful history of partnering to provide services including a cross jurisdictional sharing arrangement in the area of Public Health and Youth Bureaus which are considered fairly unique in New York State, county leaders said in a news release following the meeting on the jail.

“This is an initiative that we take very seriously,” said Orleans County Legislature Chairman Dave Callard. “Our long friendship with Genesee County provides an opportunity to have frank discussions and try extraordinary things for the mutual benefit of our taxpayers.”

The Orleans County Jail was built in two stages in the early 1970s. The county recently spent about $1.5 million in a series of improvements at the jail, which has a capacity for 82 inmates.

The Genesee County Jail was built in 1902-03 with an addition put on in 1985, boosting capacity to 97 inmates.

The Genesee County Jail was constructed in 1902-03 at 14 West Main St. The jail then had 10 to 15 cells. Genesee County put a brick addition on the jail in 1985. There is now capacity for 97 inmates.

The counties plan to apply for a state grant to hire a consultant to see if a shared jail has merit, said Chuck Nesbitt, Orleans County chief administrative officer.

All correctional institutions in New York State are regulated and overseen by the Commission on Corrections. Regional jails are widely used across the United States, but remain illegal in New York State, an obstacle that would require state legislation to overcome.

Current state law requires that each county in New York “maintain a county jail” (County Law, Section 217) and that each county sheriff shall have custody of the county jail.

County jails are funded almost entirely by local taxpayers.  When local jails find themselves with insufficient space to house the current inmate population, the facility must obtain a variance from Commission on Corrections or rely on boarding inmates out to other facilities at significant cost to the local taxpayer.

A possible first step is to apply to New York State for funding to study the concept of regionalizing including capacity, capital needs, governance, transportation, alternatives to incarceration and legal obstacles, the county leaders said in the news release.

Another logical step is to seek changes to the law from the State Legislature to overcome legal obstacles to a regional partnership.

“I’m excited that our talks have begun and that we all agree that we need to think ‘outside the box’ regarding a regional approach to our mutual jail issues,” said Ray Cianfrini, Genesee County Legislature chairman. “Orleans County has been a valuable partner in past joint ventures by merging our health departments and youth bureaus and we are confident we can work together again to the benefit of all involved.”

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