Bringing inmates home

Dutchess County arrests more people than we have jail space to house. Our county jail located in Poughkeepsie houses 257 inmates. An additional 200 inmates are transported to jails in other counties whereby Dutchess County pays rent and transportation costs to shuttle the inmates back and forth for trial. This costs an annual $8 million per year.

It’s been 19 years since the last expansion was made to the Dutchess County jail. In those 19 years, the county has studied crime and criminals in detail with hopes of lowering the crime rate. We’ve developed quality programs and yet crime continues to rise. Policy makers have now accepted the fact that while we must stay focused on prevention, deterrence and rehabilitation; we also need to build new construction to meet the county’s capacity needs.

Under the leadership of County Executive Marc Molinaro and Deputy County Executive Bill O’Neil, Dutchess County government has embarked on a slow but steady approach to expand the Dutchess County Jail.

After several rounds of studies the Legislature authorized funding in June of 2013 to define the needs of the jail expansion. While this effort is underway, there is agreement that new construction must increase staff-to-inmate ratios to achieve ultimate cost savings, as well as meet the unique needs of the jail population including mental health.

In December 2013, the Legislature authorized the purchase of lands adjacent to the existing county jail so as to facilitate the jail expansion. This sale was completed in March 2014. Now in May, the Legislature will vote to construct prefabricated housing on the jail site to permit the 200 housed-out inmates jailed in other counties to return to Dutchess soil. Bringing home our county’s inmates to live in these “pods” will enable them greater access to their families, and allow them to partake in the county’s treatment and programs. It is hoped that this will reduce recidivism and promote rehabilitation. Both aims should free up jail space and save county dollars.

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Being closer to home may also speed up the court adjudication process thereby reducing the current 45-day length of stay. The triple aim of reducing recidivism, reducing length of stay, and increasing rehabilitation should prove crucial in providing policy makers with evidence-based data. This data will be used in the jail expansion planning to determine how many cells to build so that we do not over-construct.

The state has granted us a four-year use of the temporary pods, with the requirement that the jail expansion be started by June 2016 and completed by 2019. They are insisting on a stringent planning timetable, but one that is doable so long as it does not unnecessarily rush proper planning. As overdue as the county is in its jail expansion it is imperative that we take the time and diligence to approach it sensibly and smartly.

The five-year bond cost to construct the temporary pods is $6.5 million, which when spread out over the four-year life of the pods will result in a cost-avoidance savings of $4 million a year. Much is still to be determined with respect to the jail expansion, but the pods will serve an important intermediate step in the process. Bringing home the housed-out inmates will also serve society and each individual inmate alike by connecting them to needed services and treatment.

Michael N. Kelsey represents the people of Amenia, Washington, Pleasant Valley and Millbrook in the Dutchess County Legislature. Write him at KelseyESQ@yahoo.com.