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Nassau jail alarms inactive on some parts of fence

Alarms are inactive on part of the fencing

Alarms are inactive on part of the fencing around Nassau County Correctional Facility in East Meadow, creating a safety risk, sources say. Sheriff Michael Sposato counters that a review showed "we don't need those alarms at all" and points to other security measures such as vehicle patrols and a guard tower. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Alarms aren’t working on part of the fencing around Nassau County’s jail that is meant to help prevent inmate escapes, and Sheriff’s Department officials don’t plan on restoring them.

The inactive alarms on the fencing, which is about 15 feet tall and topped by looping razor wire, cover sections of the East Meadow structure that are about 100 feet long in all, sources familiar with the situation said.

Sheriff Michael Sposato insisted Monday that public safety has not been compromised by the alarm issue.

In a July 15 email that Newsday obtained, Deputy Undersheriff Terence Smith informed all correction captains and lieutenants that as of that day, the jail fence alarms “will no longer be operational” in two zones. He also told supervisors to stop documenting the issue in reports.

“There will no longer be a need to document any entries on the incident sheet relating to these 2 zones,” Smith added in an email that also went to Deputy Undersheriff Philip Zorn.

Rank-and-file department members say the fencing issue is just one worry on a list of concerns about security and alleged jail mismanagement that are expected to spark a union-led rally by correction officers Tuesday.

Sources said the issue presents a security risk.

But in an interview Monday, Sposato defended his decision to keep the motion-activated alarms off in what he described as a busy area of the jail.

“Those two alarms are not making a difference at all,” Sposato told Newsday.

The sheriff said the alarms were put in years ago when inmates were housed right in that area — which he said they no longer are — and that there are a host of other security measures in place.

Sposato said those measures include that at least one vehicle patrols outside the jail at all times.

He added that an outdoor jail tower is constantly manned, and that correction officials can monitor the fence area in question from two other locations — one inside area that has 24-hour staffing, and an outdoor area that has staffing part of the day.

“I didn’t just take these alarms off without thinking about it. I’ve toured it, I’ve walked it,” Sposato said. “As the sheriff, I believe that with those alarms out we have a very sophisticated security system in place that I’m comfortable with . . . We don’t need those alarms.”

But sources countered that inmates are frequently in that area, that an inside supervisory area provides only a limited view of the outdoor location.

Newsday isn’t publishing a more specific description of the area, in the interest of safety.

Tuesday’s rally is scheduled at a time when the jail already has been under intense scrutiny amid criticism of inmate medical provider Armor Correctional Health Services after a series of inmate deaths.

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman sued Armor last month, claiming the company defrauded Nassau taxpayers by taking millions in public money while providing “woefully and dangerously inadequate health services.”

Complaints about Armor and security directly intersected in February when prosecutors charged a former Armor nurse with smuggling razors and synthetic marijuana into the jail.

Brian Sullivan, the president of the Nassau correction officers’ union, said Monday that no jail-wide search for contraband has been done since the arrest of the nurse. She has denied the allegations.

Her arrest followed a January slashing that left an inmate needing more than 260 facial stitches. In late February, a gang violence outbreak led to as many as five inmate slashings in a week.

In March, a group of Democratic county legislators also cited security issues when they called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate what they called an “ongoing civil rights crisis” involving inadequate inmate medical care.

But administration officials have said repeatedly in the past that Armor’s contract is a boost to public safety and jail security because significantly fewer inmates have to leave the complex to get medical treatment.

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