TRR photos by Fritz Mayer

The new Sullivan County Jail, seen here under construction, will consists of pods in which cells on two floors surround a common area, where most inmates will be free to move about during the day, and guards will operate within the pod and will not be separated from inmates by bars. 

New Sullivan jail takes shape

New direct supervision model to be utilized

MONTICELLO, NY — The new Sullivan County Jail is currently under construction, and progress has been good; the facility may be able to accept inmates in September of this year. The $75 million facility will have 256 beds. Some 25% of the cells will be able to make use of double occupancy, and the facility could be expanded should the need arrive in the future.

Ed McAndrew, commissioner of the Division of Public Works and jail administrator Hal Smith hosted a tour on January 5, for reporters and county officials.

This jail is divided into pods, and will utilize a direct supervision model within the pods. During the day, most inmates will be allowed to move freely throughout their pod, which will contain an enclosed, outside open-air recreation area as well as a room where inmates can have access to legal research. That space will also double as a room for such meetings for Alcoholics Anonymous and for classes to teach basic life skills. With each pod having these accommodations, fewer guards will be needed to move inmates from one place to another.

But perhaps the biggest difference between the old jail and the new one is that during the day, the inmates and the guards will not be separated by bars. Smith said that the jail administrators and sheriffs he’s talked with elsewhere in the state say with this system of guarding inmates, “the reduction in violence is outstanding, because you don’t have those bars in between.” He added, “In the old jail, you make your rounds and then you go sit at your post, and you don’t have a good idea of what’s going on behind you. In this direct-supervision model, the correction officer is like a cop on the beat in New York City, so he’s making his rounds, and he’s seeing who is doing something he shouldn’t be doing,” and addressing any issues before they become large problems.

The facility will also feature a full kitchen where meals will be prepared. Officials considered an alternative where meals are prepared elsewhere and reheated in the jail, but the nutritionist said that type of meal typically contains too much salt, so they decided not to use that approach.

Cuomo’s input

The tour came just a day after Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered his 2018 State of the State Address, in which he focused on the treatment and welfare of the state’s inmate population. He specifically talked about a teen who committed suicide on Rikers Island after waiting three years to be tried after being accused of stealing a backpack.

Cuomo said, “I am directing the State Corrections Commission to develop legally binding corrective action plans or closure orders on jails that are out of compliance, because enough is enough.”

County officials issued a press release saying the 109-year-old existing jail—believed to be the oldest in the state—would be a likely candidate for closure.

County Manager Josh Potosek said, “While our staff do the best they can to maintain and operate it to state standards, that facility has exhausted its useful life and can no longer remain in compliance.”

Sheriff Mike Schiff thanked the current legislature because they “decided to act responsibly and build a new jail on our terms.”

Legislator Joe Perrello, chair of the Public Works Committee, “It’s a good thing we didn’t wait any longer, or we might have been spending a lot more money shipping out inmates to neighboring jails.”

Legislator Terri Ward, chair of the Public Safety Committee, said moving forward with the new jails “was the humane choice to make, for our deputies and other county employees, as well as our inmates.”

The facility will also house the sheriff’s road patrol.

 

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