In 1983, a New York county sheriff was so angered by a backlog of “state-ready” inmates sitting in his county jail that he drove a convicted burglar to a state prison and left the man handcuffed to a fence outside. Twenty years later, the number of state-readies held in local jails is at the lowest level since officials began tracking the backlogs in 1990. The result is savings for counties that once absorbed the high cost of housing convicts awaiting placement in a state prison, reports the Albany Times Union.
Officials attribute the decrease to anticrime efforts, alternatives-to-incarceration programs, and the addition of thousands of maximum-security beds at state prisons. Albany County formerly housed 30 to 50 “state readies” at any time. Now, the number is under five.
At an average cost of about $97 a day per inmate, many county budgets became strained by the overloaded jails. In 1989, the state Sheriff’s Association filed suit saying the state corrections chief should be held in contempt for leaving state inmates in local jails. Many jails were so crowded that some were forced to house inmates in gymnasiums and tents. The state responded by shifting inmates into its own gymnasiums at more than a dozen prisons. The drastic increase in the state’s prison population that began in the late 1980s continued into the 1990s when drug-related crimes peaked. At the time, state prisons held about 47,000 inmates. Today, there are more than 65,000 state prison inmates but no shortage of beds. In 1999, the number of state-ready inmates housed in local jails reached an all-time high — 4,217. This month, the number was down to 180 statewide.
For many county facilities, including Albany’s, having fewer state-ready inmates means more beds available for rent to the federal government and counties without enough room for their own inmates. Albany County took in more than $4 million during the first 11 months this year by renting its extra jail space.