Jail overcrowding costs taxpayers millions while prisons have extra room

Patty Ritchie's meeting at her office in Watertown

Can the "under-filled" state prison system relieve overcrowding in local jails that is costing taxpayers millions? Many legislators in Albany feel the length of time it takes for inmates to be transferred to state prisons is too long.

State Senator Patty Ritchie held a high level meeting at her office in Watertown Monday. According to the Senator's media advisory, "The meeting stems from an effort ... to provide additional mandate relief for local taxpayers by addressing the problem of state prisoners being held in local county jails."

Often a parole violator will spend months in a local jail before he or she is transferred to a state prison. Ritchie says many state prisons are under-filled and she's proposed using the existing prisons like the Watertown Correctional Facility at Dry Hill as "hubs" to hold state parole violators.

Last year, the State Senate passed a bill that would require the State Corrections to transfer parole violators to state prisons within 10 days, or the state would bear the costs. The bill was referred to the State Assembly but did not come up for a vote.

According to the sheriffs of Oswego, Jefferson and St. Lawrence Counties, holding state prisoners is costing taxpayers in those county jails more than $2 million per year. It costs up to $100 per day to house an inmate in a local jail.

The overcrowding problem is so severe in Oswego County that legislators are looking into alternatives that will allow accused criminals to remain in the community with GPS tracking devises.

The meeting in Watertown will involve county sheriffs, and Senator Michael Nozzolio who chairs the Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections Committee.

Ritchie's opponent in the race for State Senate, Democrat Amy Tresidder, said she agrees that the "state needs to reimburse counties for the cost of housing prisoners." She pointed out that Ritchie's bill passed the Senate twice but could not get past the Assembly. "She's just not helping." Tresidder said. The democrat also questioned why the meeting with the sheriff's was held behind cosed doors. "I don't understand why it's not a public conversation."

A spokesperson for Senator Ritchie said while the meeting was held behind closed doors, the media was notified and given the opportunity to interview the participants afterward.