Is Cuomo making the state look good at county taxpayer expense?

County jails are chronically overcrowded, while the NY plans to close more state prisons. Sheriffs say counties are absorbing the state costs of holding inmates dumped from state facilities.

Governor Andrew Cuomo's new TV campaign, paid for by the State Democratic Party, touts the fact that his budget proposal includes no new taxes.

There are, however, concerns about how that's being done and that taxpayers may still end up paying more, just at a different level of government.

Sheriffs in New York have a prime example: They say they now have to care for prison inmates at the county level who used to be in state prisons. And, their state money to defray the costs has been taken away.

Onondaga County Sheriff Kevin Walsh says, "While the state government is touting the fact that they are at the lowest point for inmates, and they've closed 3 or 4 prisons, and will close a couple more in this budget, we have seen at the same time a disproportionate growth in our inmates." And, many of those inmates "could, and probably should, be in some state prison facility."

The issue for the sheriffs is probation and parole violators. Madison county's Sheriff Allen Riley lays out the logistics. He says that his jail is currently housing five parole violators. They cost about $80 a day each, plus health and medical care.The $34 per diem the state used to pay for housing state prisoners, typically probation and parole violators, has been taken away.

Sheriff Riley and other law enforcers point out that if they had the space, they could take federal prisoners at a compensation rate of close to $100 per day. So, instead of 'making' money, the counties are actually losing money.

Senator Patty Ritchie (R-48) agrees it places an unfair burden on taxpayers. The Oswego and Jefferson County jails, both in her district, are chronically overcrowded and house large numbers of state parole violators.

Ritchie has introduced a bill for the third year that would have the state help, by limiting the amount of time the state can keep parole violators in county jails to ten days. The bill has passed in the State Senate in past years, but not in the Assembly. It faces a hearing campaign next Wednesday.

Ritchie is also proposing housing violators in the now-closed Butler Correctional Facility in her district. Senator Mike Nozzolio, from the Auburn area, is also working on that pilot project.

Ritchie says the prison issue is not the only case of 'unfunded mandates.' "The state keeps talking about mandate relief," she says. "It's time they step up to the plate."

But for now, the bottom line for the county's jails is that there are too many prisoners, including the ones that should be in state facilities. "The state is dumping them on us," says Onondaga County's Kevin Walsh.

View the number

of parole violaters statewide and a breakdown by county.