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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Nassau County Jail officials mangle message about security

The Nassau County Correction Officers Benevolent Association held

The Nassau County Correction Officers Benevolent Association held a major rally outside the Nassau County Correctional Facility on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2016 in East Meadow. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Attention East Meadow residents, especially the dozen or so of you who reached out to officials about security at the Nassau County Jail:

Officials say the facility is secure.

Which would have been the simplest response from county officials to your concerns on Tuesday.

But no.

Instead, the county mangled its message about jail security after a Newsday report about the Nassau sheriff’s decision to disable motion alarms at one jail location.

As Newsday’s Bridget Murphy reported in Tuesday’s editions, alarms aren’t working on part of the fencing meant to help prevent inmate escapes, and Sheriff’s Department officials don’t plan on restoring them.

Here’s where things are going to get a bit tricky, because Newsday is not reporting exactly where the alarms are, since that might compromise security at the jail.

But officials — in a break with protocol, they said — took a group of newspaper and television reporters to the spot on Tuesday.

We were told that the Newsday report was wrong — which left me, at least, with the impression that officials believed that a trip to the location would prove it.

Not so.

The county’s beef turned out to be with the word “fencing” in Newsday’s report.

The real deal, according to a written statement passed out to reporters and attributed to Charles Campisi, Nassau’s recently appointed part-time commissioner of corrections — who accompanied us to the location — was that the alarms in question had been disarmed on “an interior gate ... ” — which, to my eye, looked to be part of the jail’s fencing.

The statement’s next point was that the location was in a “non-inmate” area, where no inmates are housed or gather for recreation.

However, inmates do appear to get near the location: As an official talked, one reporter sang out, “Look, there’s an inmate.”

Officials were quick to point out that there was a correction officer within 25 feet of the inmate. While we could not see the officer, we could see other correction officers near where we were gathered. Cameras, correction officers and fencing also stood between us and the inmate we saw.

Finally, Campisi’s statement asserted that the alarms had been “disabled 23 years ago.”

There seems to be agreement between officials and the correction officers union that the alarms were on the fritz.

Sheriff Michael Sposato, in an interview Wednesday, repeated that fixing the alarms was not necessary because the jail has multiple layers of security in place.

Not so, said Brian Sullivan, president of the Nassau correction officers’ union, who’d led a phalanx of correction officers in a protest outside the jail on Tuesday.

“It is not safe,” he said, referring to the conditions correction officers work under while standing near a gunmetal gray coffin the union used to drive home its point.

There are no ongoing management-union negotiations; and a check with the county comptroller’s office shows that the jail’s budget has grown smaller in recent years.

Sposato and Campisi said that dissatisfaction over a change jail policy that requires correction officers to patrol every 15 minutes rather than every 30 minutes was the catalyst for the protest.

With a lawsuit by the state attorney general alleging poor medical care for inmates, and complaints from correction officers, the jail is going to be under scrutiny for some time.

The county would do well to improve its messaging in the future, for the jail’s neighbors, and the community at large.

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