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Nassau jail has go-ahead to rent out cells

The Nassau County Correctional Facility in East Meadow.

The Nassau County Correctional Facility in East Meadow. (Oct. 27, 2010) Photo Credit: Sean M. Gates

The Nassau County jail has gotten a green light to rent some of its empty cells to other counties -- like Suffolk -- that are struggling with overcrowded facilities.

In a sharp turnaround, the state Commission of Correction on Monday gave word to acting Nassau Sheriff Michael Sposato that as many as 42 inmates could be housed immediately at the East Meadow facility -- and up to 75 more by June.

The move comes after Nassau responded to several outstanding violations of state regulations, some of which are a few years old, said commission chairman Thomas Beilein, who is based in Albany. It could help relieve the Suffolk jail's overcrowding and overtime problems, and Nassau's acute budget crunch.

Suffolk jail officials have said they are prepared to pay $125 per inmate per day to board their charges in Nassau. That could amount to $4.6 million in revenue if Nassau houses 100 Suffolk prisoners for a year.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano had proposed the plan to house Suffolk's overflow prisoners as a source of much-needed cash to the Nassau Interim Finance Authority.

"Apparently, there was a change of attitude in Nassau," said Beilein. "They recognized that maybe they could generate some revenue. I like to think there's more to it than that. They've made substantial progress."

In a stern letter last month, Beilein barred Nassau from renting out the cells, saying all of the outstanding violations must be removed before he would grant permission for the leasing agreement.

But commission staff members visited the jail last week and evaluated the jail's progress upgrading the facilities. The violations ran the gamut from sanitation problems to administrative practices.

In a letter sent to Sposato on Monday, Beilein granted the jail provisional permission to begin housing 42 inmates immediately, 25 more as of April 25, 25 more as of May 16, and another 25 after June 6 as long as certain conditions were satisfied.

Jail officials said they are expecting the first busload of Suffolk inmates Wednesday.

Not all of the violations have been resolved to Beilein's satisfaction, he said, but he said he was "surprised, impressed and pleased" with the progress so far and reserved the right to rescind the agreement.

Suffolk's two facilities are bursting at the seams, with the jail at Yaphank at 110 percent of its design capacity and the Riverhead facility at 138 percent capacity, officials said.

Nassau's jail holds 1,452 inmates and is at 75 percent of its capacity. It already houses 115 federal prisoners.

"I'm actually very happy," Sposato said. "We worked hard. We got the support of the county executive."

He added that capital plans to fix a roof and upgrade showers in the facility are now under way, and he has appointed a chief administrative officer, a key requirement.

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