Operations at the Nassau jail will be the subject of a county legislative hearing after an inmate's apparent overdose death last week and a union chief's warning two days earlier about mismanagement of the facility by its corrections commissioner.
Nassau's Public Safety Committee will conduct the hearing Dec. 14, Mary Studdert, a spokeswoman for majority Republicans in the county legislature, confirmed to Newsday.
Last Wednesday, a 29-year-old inmate at the Nassau County Correctional Center in East Meadow died of an apparent overdose, County Executive Bruce Blakeman said at the time. The Nassau Police Homicide Squad is investigating but a cause of death has not been released.
Two days before the inmate's death, Brian Sullivan, the president of Nassau's Correction Officers Benevolent Association, stood before the 19-member Nassau County Legislature and criticized Blakeman's decision in September to bring back former Sheriff Michael Sposato as commissioner of corrections.
What to know
- The Nassau County Legislature has schedule a hearing next month on operations at the county jail.
- An inmate died of an apparent overdose last week and questions have been raised about management of the facility.
- In 2021, a state Commission of Correction report found jail officials failed to do enough to remove drugs from inmate housing after "a pattern of drug-related contraband" activity.
Previously, Sposato had a tumultuous tenure, marked by controversial cost-cutting measures, chiefly the outsourcing of medical care in 2011 to Armor Correctional Health Services, a Florida-based for-profit company.
State agencies, including the attorney general's office, faulted Armor for providing inadequate care after inmate custody deaths. In 2017, the county reinstated NUMC as the jail's health care provider. Democratic County Executive Laura Curran fired Sposato after taking office in 2018.
The New York State Commission of Correction said Armor provided inadequate health care to at least 8 of 14 Nassau inmates who died while the company oversaw health care at the jail.
At a Nov. 21 meeting of the Nassau Legislature, Sullivan told lawmakers Sposato had "demoralized this entire workforce with his condescending mission of cutting this place to ribbons, with no regard for the safety of inmates or officers. Does anyone remember the Armor Correctional inmate health debacle?"
Sposato declined to comment, county spokesman Chris Boyle said.
In his testimony, Sullivan criticized the county for failing to hire enough correction officers to manage the jail.
"To say that this union and our membership has been incensed with Sposato's return is about as big a huge understatement as you can get since we have had a long, arduous and publicly adversarial relationship with Michael Sposato," Sullivan told legislators.
Sullivan said his members will continue to raise concerns about Sposato "if he is permitted to continue his reign of destruction over this department."
In a statement Tuesday to Newsday, Blakeman said: "Since taking office less than a year ago, I have hired additional correction officers and initiated new capital plans to improve the facilities at the jail to keep it safe and secure."
Blakeman added that he had recently "become aware that overtime has ballooned to an unacceptable level. Commissioner Sposato was hired to control those costs and obviously that has become an issue of contention with union leadership. However, I not only have a duty to protect the community, but also the taxpayers."
Tatum Fox, deputy county executive for public safety, told legislators last week that Blakeman's "administration is fully on board to hire and staff up. … The focus is on management. Armor is gone, thankfully."
She said the county was working to reduce excessive overtime costs.
"We're not looking to cut to the bone, we're just looking to manage better," Fox said. "Safety will never be compromised for officers or inmates."
While Sullivan expressed concern about the effect of staffing on security at the jail, he did not detail concerns about contraband.
In a statement after the inmate's death, Blakeman said: “There will be a full and transparent investigation to determine how the contraband got into our correctional facility."
The inmate, Nikita Pertsev of Brooklyn, fell ill about 1 p.m. Wednesday and was pronounced dead at a hospital after suffering a "medical episode," police said last week.
In 2021, a state Commission of Correction report found jail officials failed to do enough to remove drugs from inmate housing after "a pattern of drug-related contraband" activity.
Democratic and Republican legislators said they were alarmed by Sullivan's testimony.
"You've been coming to us for years, and you've been strong on advocating for your membership, and what you've been telling us each and every time has been borne out by the facts," Nicolello said to Sullivan at the meeting. "You have with us a tremendous amount of credibility."