Post Star Editorial: Cuomo should OK inmate bill

Patrick M. Gallivan

June 23, 2011

As a former Erie County sheriff and New York state trooper, Sen. Patrick Gallivan probably understands inmate populations and jail finances better than most members of the state Legislature.

So perhaps Gov. Andrew Cuomo should cede to his expertise and sign a bill that would open up New York state jails to inmates from other states.

The state Senate and Assembly this week passed a bill sponsored by Gallivan that will allow counties with extra space in their jails to enter into contracts with other states to accept their extra inmate populations.

The bill would not only help New York counties by providing welcome boarding revenue and by filling up unused jail space, it also would help nearby counties like Vermont and Pennsylvania, who now have to take their extra inmates to states much further away than New York, including Virginia and Colorado.

Sen. Gallivan says allowing inmates to cross state borders would not be unusual. New York counties already enter into agreements to accept inmates from other counties within New York, from New York state prisons and from the federal government.

Gallivan said he couldn't explain why the state has the inter-state ban on boarding inmates in the first place. But it's in the law, and he thinks it should be changed. He's right.

Under the bill, New York counties would be given the authority to negotiate individual contracts with the surrounding states, setting boarding fees and establishing agreements on liability and availability.

It would be very similar to the arrangement now in place for negotiating contracts with other counties and the state and federal prison systems.

The bill would be particularly beneficial to Warren and Washington counties, each of which built jails that were too large for their inmate populations.

The jails were built oversized in part because of larger local

inmate populations and in part

on the promise of the counties generating big bucks from boarding inmates from outside the counties.

But the boom market for boarding inmates dropped off as those counties have built their own larger jails or found other places to board out their inmates.

As of this week, Washington County's 180-bed facility currently has space for about 60 extra inmates, according to Sheriff Roger Leclaire.

The county charges about $85 per day to house inmates from other localities. That means a potential maximum revenue stream for the county of about $5,100 per day, or about $1.8 million a year.

The $24 million expansion of Warren County's jail in 2004 allowed the county to save $1 million a year in boarding out inmates and to take in $1 million a year taking other facilities' prisoners in the first year.

The average daily inmate population for the 186-bed facility in the first quarter of 2011 was 146, according to Jail Administrator Capt. Michael Gates. Warren County charges about $80 a day, plus all medical expenses, to other facilities that bring their inmates here.

So figure that 40 open beds at $80 a day works out to a maximum annual boarding revenue of about $1.17 million.

Of course, inmate populations fluctuate, as does availability to accept outside inmates.

And there are costs associated with housing inmates from other counties and states, so allowing out-of-state inmates wouldn't all be profit for local taxpayers. But it would be revenue that counties are missing out on now.

Senator Gallivan said there was some question about the constitutionality of the language of his bill. But that has been cleared up, and the bill is ready to be sent to Gov. Cuomo for his signature.

Let's hope he sees how this bill would help cash-strapped counties generate needed revenue and that he'll sign the bill into law.

Local editorials represent the opinion of The Post-Star editorial board, which consists of Publisher Rick Emanuel, Editor Ken Tingley, Editorial Page Editor Mark Mahoney and citizen representative Carol Merchant.

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