Tompkins County Sheriff, Legislature Try To Deal With Overcrowding At Jail

Aug 23, 2016

The Tompkins County Jail has enough beds for 82 people, but according to Sheriff Kenneth Lansing, they average about 90 people a day--and they're not supposed to fill every single bed. Over the past several years, the county has asked for temporary waivers from the state, in increments of about 60 days to one year, to go over maximum capacity.

In the past, the New York State Commission of Correction has granted the waivers. But at the commission's meeting on July 19, Sheriff Lansing was surprised when they rejected the application. The Commission said Tompkins County did not have concrete plans to expand the facility, and gave it until the beginning of September to get the numbers right.

Credit mikecogh / Flickr

“Our numbers have not gone up," said Lansing. "The problem is, they’ve not gone down enough for the state’s satisfaction.”

The county often has to board people in jails from other counties, so Lansing said he understands the state's concern.

“There’s been days that I’ve left on a Friday, for the weekend. And maybe we had two or three board outs. [I then] came back on Monday morning and went across to the corrections facility and we’ve got 10, 12, 13 board outs,” said Lansing.

Leaders in Tompkins County are worried because all the solutions they see would be pricey. They could either board out more people, which would cost about $558,000 per year; build an addition to the jail, which would cost $10-12 million; or even build a whole new facility.

Sheriff Lansing is frustrated because he explained to the state that the county is investing in alternatives to jail aimed at reducing recidivism. Despite those investments, Lansing is concerned they'll have to build.

“I’m afraid we’ll have to," said Lansing. "I was hoping what we had done with the new programs and stuff that it would hold off until we see how these programs are going to help.”

In response, the County Legislature passed off on a plan to pay for a consultant to analyze the programs' effect on recidivism and the design of the jail, according to Michael Lane, chair of the legislature.

County leaders plan to make their case to the Commission of Correction at their meeting on August 30. You can watch the webcast of the meeting here. They hope the state can wait until they get the results back from the consultant.

If the commission can't wait, the county has to board out more people in other jails until they figure out what to do next.