Suffolk County, N.Y., Sheriff Alfred Tisch has campaigned hard for nearly a year for a new jail of maximum-security cells to hold more than 2,000 inmates, Newsday reports. The idea is still being debated as the Long Island county faces a $235-million budget shortfall. The Suffolk Budget Review Office estimates the new facility would cost about $150 million to build and many millions each year to operate. A private consultant puts construction costs at $215 million.
One Suffolk legislator says the consensus is that something has to be built to ease crowding at two county jails that are now over capacity. Officials have proposed a to divert nonviolent inmates to probation, where they would be tracked through electronic monitoring and other community-based programs. That option would cost $350,000 a year to supervise up to 170 inmates instead of housing them in the county jails.
The project would demolish a 548-bed county jail in Yaphank and build a 1,259-bed facility on the same spot, making room for about 2,000 inmates, when added to the 760 or so beds in a Riverhead facility. The existing two jails are designed to house about 1,300 inmates, but daily counts have exceeded 1,500.
Richard Bartell, a former Federal Reserve Bank economist who conducts a prison ministry, said the project could cost up to twice the current estimates. “The economics are catastrophic,” he said. Dana Kaplan of the National Resource Center on Prisons and Communities in Cincinnati said other counties have instituted bail reform, diversionary treatment program and other alternatives, “and their jail populations have dropped precipitously with no negative effect on public safety.”