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Sheriff is obliged to keep jail safe

September 22, 2011
By Kevin A. Mulverhill - Sheriff , Franklin County

Recently the Franklin County Jail and the office of sheriff have been the topic of conversation. The duties and responsibilities of the sheriff in Franklin County are primarily focused on the operation of the jail.

The office of sheriff is an elected position that carries with it a constitutional obligation to public safety. The sheriff is the top law enforcement officer in the county and answers only to the citizens he/she serves. The sheriff has a duty to provide a safe and secure environment within the confines of the jail. I am a professional law-enforcement officer who asked the citizens of Franklin County to allow me to utilize my experience with the New York State Department of Correctional Services and New York State Police to serve them as their sheriff. The voters agreed, and I embarked on a study of how I could enhance the operations of the Sheriff's Department and save valuable tax dollars.

The jail is regulated by the New York State Commission of Correction and must be operated within the rules and regulations set forth by them. Every aspect of the jail is subject to the scrutiny of the commission, including construction, inmate housing, programs and proper staffing. It is the commission's responsibility to set the minimum standard for the operation of county jails. The county jails are subject to audits on any operation at any time. The last staffing audit conducted by the commission at the Franklin County Jail was in 2003.

In January of this year, I requested the commission conduct a staffing audit of the Franklin County Jail. There are several reasons I made this request:

1. The previous audit was last completed in 2003.

2. Staff overtime had been raised as an issue.

3. Previous incidents involving safety and security had occurred within the jail.

4. Inmate population has dramatically increased over the past several years.

5. Good business sense dictates that when new management takes over an entity, an accurate measure of resources be taken prior to moving forward.

A complete evaluation of the staff and the required duties performed was evaluated by three representatives of the commission. This was an independent report that went into detail and explored every aspect of staffing needs at the jail.

In August, the commission released the Position and Staffing Analysis for the Franklin County Jail. The analysis compared the 2003 audit to current conditions and provided in-depth analysis of the current staffing level at the jail. The analysis covered escorting inmates, intake and release of inmates, additional bed space and dorm added after the previous audit, transportation and the increase in the number of trips and programs since the previous audit, as well as officer leave (sick, personal, vacation, compensation) and the need to provide training for all staff.

The conclusion reached in the analysis was that additional staff would need to be deployed. Two of the positions would be administrative in nature. An assistant jail administrator is consistent with jails of a similar size, and an additional sergeant would eliminate the need for correction officers to act as "shift leaders" in the absence of a sergeant or administrator. The analysis also recommends an additional 16 full-time correction officers be added. This would make a total of 66 security staff, bringing the jail in line with other jails of similar size. This is a minimum staffing level.

I am well aware of the budget complications an additional 18 staff would pose. It should be noted that there are currently nine per-diem correction officers who are working 40 hours and more per week. Within a short time, the per diems will be receiving benefits and will be included in the 2012 budget. So in effect, there will be a total of nine new hires as a result of this analysis.

As the sheriff, I have a duty and responsibility to provide a safe and secure facility that meets the minimum standard set forth by the New York State Commission of Correction. I am obligated to the safety of the public, staff and inmates incarcerated at the Franklin County Jail. I concur with the recommendations set forth by the commission. I believe that the analysis is true and accurate. I also believe any staffing level, negotiated or otherwise implemented, that falls below the minimum staffing recommendation is unacceptable and could lead to future liability. What does appear to be negotiable is the time frame to implement the new positions. In their analysis, the commission has not set an effective date to come up to full staff.

The New York State Commission of Correction will provide other options in response to a refusal to comply with the Staffing Analysis. The current maximum capacity for the Franklin County Jail is 126 inmates. The jail's original design was for 85 inmates. A number of variances issued by the Commission of Correction allow for the increase in population. The commission could remove several or all of the variances, resulting in a need to house inmates out of county. The minimum cost for housing one inmate out of county, excluding transportation, is approximately $100 per day, and the cost of transporting inmates, including vehicle and staff, is approximately $1 per mile. The county could conceivably be forced to house out as many as 40 to 45 inmates at a cost of more than $4,000 per day.

As the sheriff and a fellow taxpayer, I have implemented a number of new programs and changes aimed at lowering the cost of operating the county jail. The Alternative to Incarceration Program (home monitoring with ankle bracelet) currently has between 15 and 20 participants. I have reduced the cost of housing inmates out of county, and I have saved more than $500,000 this year. The county jail is receiving meals from the New York State Department of Corrections' Cook Chill program, which will reduce the food bill at the county jail. We have restructured the visiting hours and implemented a new sick-leave policy as well as changed the day-off schedule of the staff, all in an effort to curb overtime costs.

A countywide tax hike appears to be inevitable. I know there is never a good time to ask for additional spending. The county will most likely be required to maintain a county jail, and that jail will always be required to meet the minimum standard set forth by the New York State Commission of Correction. This staffing level is the minimum staffing recommended to run a safe and secure facility that ensures public safety and reduces the potential burden of liability.



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