Analysts: Delay funding for Suffolk jail

In the new Suffolk County Correctional Facility in In the new Suffolk County Correctional Facility in Yaphank, one correction officer mans this entire pod. (March 22, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

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Suffolk County lawmakers should delay $50 million in funding for the second phase of the county's new jail in Yaphank for a year to see if alternatives can be found, legislative budget analysts said.

The Office of Budget Review said in a report that County Executive Steve Bellone's plan to spread $100 million in jail construction costs over 2015 and 2016 is "illogical" because it would require separate requests for proposals from vendors and would lead "to certain chaos" at the building site. The first phase of the project, containing 440 beds, opened recently.

Instead, budget analysts recommended that total construction costs, estimated at $113.8 million, be budgeted for 2016.

In its ongoing effort to relieve overcrowding in the jail system, the state has ordered Suffolk to build another 360 beds at the Yaphank site.

The 475-page review of Bellone's 2014 capital budget and three-year capital plan noted that since 2007 the inmate population has fluctuated between 1,663 and 1,752. Delaying Phase 2 of the new jail could give the county time to persuade the state to reduce the number of new cells they have mandated, the report said. The analysts noted that the county Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, made up of law enforcement and judicial officials, is assessing the use of monitoring devices on nonviolent inmates to reduce the need for jail space.

Presiding Officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook) backed the analysts' recommendation to delay the funding. "If we could back up that money a little bit, it would be helpful because money is tight and there are other projects that we would like to move up," he said.

Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said Bellone is open to the possibility of delaying funding as long as the state agrees to give the county time to find alternatives. "If we can find a way to replace a nine figure expense, that would be very good for the county taxpayer.

Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset), the minority leader, said he is willing to consider alternatives to new jail construction. However, he said, "there are some bona fide bad guys in our jails and I feel more comfortable when the bad guys are in jail."

The legislative analysts also called for delaying $5 million in 2014 funding for Operation Jumpstart, an economic development initiative meant to aid "shovel-ready" projects. The analysts said the administration should use $5 million in funding that was allocated for 2013 but has not yet been spent.

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