For years the inmate population in Dutchess County has far surpassed the jail capacity, but not until recently have we seen a proposal to build a larger, more efficient facility gain speed. The issue is highly contentious, as legislators and members of the community alike are split right down the middle—either supportive of the construction or deeply opposed, with few compromises in sight.
Because of the steep cost, long timeline and drastic reorganization a completely new jail would inevitably necessitate, some local lawmakers believe a renovation to the existing jail located on North Hamilton Street would be a more viable option for both taxpayers and the inmates currently incarcerated.
For Dutchess County Legislator Richard Perkins, representing Hyde Park, constructing a completely new facility is an unnecessarily drastic measure that requires more careful deliberation.
“I’ve been waiting for a fair comparison,” he said. “You’re not just building the few beds that you need. You’re building a whole jail over again. You’re abandoning the existing facility.”
Perkins argued that a new jail in Dutchess county is counterproductive, considering the steep number of inmates that might be eligible for alternatives to incarceration, and who would be better served if relocated to a mental health program.
Investing in an entirely new facility would thus be an over zealous reaction to an issue better addressed through channeling money into the existing jail and related programs.
Perkins has sought out a number of different perspectives, finding the issue more nuanced than some might assume.
Perkins explained, “I have talked to the undersheriff, the administrators and staff at the jail, I’ve been on tours of the jail, I’ve talked to the Defense Attorney, the public defender, the probation department, and one of the things that came out of that is learning that many folks at the jail are repeat offenders.”
He added that part of the problem has to do with the decrease in programs available formerly incarcerated persons. “I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that we have closed a lot of our mental institutions and that we aren’t giving people the right care.”
The crux of the jail expansion debate lies in the fact that the local criminal justice system currently sends nearly half of the population arrested in Dutchess County to other counties, creating incredible delays in court proceedings, exorbitant transportation costs and difficulty maintaining continuity in program offerings within the jail.
If Dutchess County did go ahead with a plan to erect an entirely new jail facility, said County Executive Marcus Molinaro, a courtroom would be included on the jail grounds in order to expedite the legal process.
“There are a lot of things that cause delays in courts. If we have onsite court facilities, we can do court proceedings more quickly,” he explained, adding, “It would also put a judge, who has never seen the facility before, in the position to know where they are sending people.”
However, the proposal for a new jail would relocate the facility at least three miles from its current spot in the City of Poughkeepsie. Legislator Perkins expressed his apprehensions about the move from such a central location: “The jail accesses the City of Poughkeepsie courts every day and the county courts every day. All the agencies that come to the jail to serve inmates are located in the City of Poughkeepsie just blocks away from North Hamilton Street.”
Perkins also argues that increasing efficiencies in the current jail facility would save considerably on costs, as a new jail is estimated to cost between 100 and 200 million dollars. Perkins looks to a renovation plan released in 2003 by Cerniglia and Swartz at VITETTA, an architectural and engineering advising company.
He advocates for a renovation of the current jail that would include multiple programming, visitation and recreation areas located adjacent to cell blocks and dormitories.
Escort of inmates from the living areas to program areas would then require fewer guards and less security measures. These spaces would make space for educational and re-entry programs within the jail walls, placing special emphasis on the pre-release area and services for individuals preparing to re-enter their communities.
Legislator Joel Tyner, representing Rhinebeck and Clinton, agreed that making a solid commitment to more educational programs for those incarcerated and the communities affected by incarcerated individuals is key.
He explained the need for more job counseling services, and believes we must look to successful programs like Brooklyn’s Fraternities for Dads Behind Bars as an example.
“You don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” he explained last week in a discussion about the jail expansion before the County Legislature Board Meeting.
Although Molinaro stressed the importance of educational programming in the proposed “campus” jail facility; opponents like Tyner are looking for a more concrete promise to implement such programs.
Molinaro explained the deficit of social services within the City of Poughkeepsie as a largely financial one, caused by the high cost of housing-out.
“We used to give about 2 million dollars annually to not-for-profits to provide assistance, at the same time we were spending only 2-3 million dollars in housing out. Today we give $700,000 to those same programs and spend 8 million to house-out,” he said.
Although increasing capacity for more inmates within Dutchess County through a completely new jail facility would save that 8 million dollars annually, Perkins worries such a decision is rushed and ignores a more economical option of renovation.
He shared, “It’s the legislature’s job to deliberate and decide. The majority of people who I present this plan see it as very reasonable and responsible, and that’s what I think we have to be. Reasonable and responsible.”