Levy will fight sheriff's plan to hire 200 at new jail

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Suffolk Sheriff Vincent DeMarco filed a plan with the state correction commission to hire 200 officers to open the new Yaphank county jail, but County Executive Steve Levy says he will fight it.

"Requiring the hiring of 150 new officers is a budget buster," said Levy, adding it "runs counter to the . . . commission's original representation that a state-of-the-art jail would lessen, not increase, the number of officers needed."

DeMarco's plan calls for the hiring of classes of 50 correction officers in September, as well as January, May and September, of 2011. The plan is to have enough staff to run the $140-million jail set to open in November 2011, while backfilling for retirements and promotions.

"We don't understand why a new jail with the same number of inmates as the old jail will require 150 more officers," said Levy, even though DeMarco briefed Levy aides beforehand and is asking for 200 officers. Levy added he will press the state to allow continued double-bunking and video surveillance to cut the extra officers.

The plan comes after the state Commission of Correction last month threatened Suffolk with a loss of its variances that permit Suffolk to house 511 prisoners over capacity, if it did not detail how it will staff the new jail.

"I'm sure that if September comes and the class of 50 does not materialize, the state will come down on us," said DeMarco. The sheriff also warned if the state ends the variances, it would cost about $28 million a year to send inmates outside Suffolk.

John Caher, commission spokesman in Albany, said Suffolk's variances are up for renewal every 30 days and are based on having a plan "endorsed by the county." He also said the old jail costs Suffolk $15 million a year in overtime, and the new jail will increase efficiency by "a factor of two." Suffolk officials, he added, got state approval for smaller cells, a move that "precludes double celling . . . as the county knows."

While the state says the county needs 113 more officers to run the new jail, DeMarco said staffing ratios will be much lower than the existing Riverhead complex, which requires 625 corrections officers for 1,192 prisoners. The new Yaphank facility will require only 359 officers to handle 1,002 inmates.

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