Suffolk County's new $180 million jail in Yaphank will be finished Feb. 1, paving the way for it to house the first of 440 prisoners after more than a year of delays.
Public works officials informed Sheriff Vincent DeMarco of the date this week. The notice came after the state commission of correction warned the county to provide a "concrete date" or face the loss of some or all of its variances, which now permit the current jail to operate over its capacity.
"We're excited -- we've been waiting a long time. This will give us new technologies, a new way of doing things and give us space to run new programs" addressing issues like recidivism, DeMarco said. "To run programs, you need space."
DeMarco said his staff has been ready since April to take control of the jail. He said he hoped the first inmates could be housed in the new jail within a month, and that it could be fully operational in about three months or less. However, he added, "It will all depend on whether there are any bugs that have to be worked out."
Before it can open, the commission ordered refresher courses on all the new jail procedures and facilities. The commission also said all mechanical systems must be tested, along with new electronic security systems. Searches must be conducted to remove potential contraband such as tools and leftover construction materials. The letter said the county must implement 24 promotions from sergeant to captain to be properly staffed.
Thomas Beilein, commission chairman, also warned that because a jail operates around the clock, the building will age three times faster than a normal office building and the county needs to increase maintenance. He warned that if the county does not deal with such issues, the commission "will have no other choice but to mandate [maintenance] staff at both the Riverhead and Yaphank facilities."
Public works officials have confirmed the Feb. 1 date in an email. Gilbert Anderson, public works commissioner, later said the building was largely completed in December 2011, but there was "no real urgency" to fill the jail because of the county's fiscal woes and the work plans to renovate the current Yaphank dormitories were not complete. He said plans for those renovations are complete and will go out to bid shortly. Work should begin by the end of the year or early next year.
The county has saved money amid the delays through the variances on the existing jail, which averaged 1,712 prisoners daily last year, and through added staff that cut correction overtime expenses. In 2011, overtime reached $17.7 million before falling last year to $13.1 million. This year's budget estimates $13.5 million in correction overtime. A class of 25 correction officers also is planned for March to replace retiring officers.
Legislative budget analysts say the new jail will save money because prisoners won't have to be sent outside Suffolk. The 2013 operating budget estimates that the cost of out-of-county prisoner housing will fall to $540,000, down from an estimated $5.5 million last year.