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Nassau jail oversight board still in limbo

The Nassau County Correctional Facility is seen in

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

Delays in the confirmation of seven nominees to the long-awaited Board of Visitors for the Nassau county jail has frustrated advocates who say jail reform they had hoped to see soon has once again been put on the back burner.

Five months ago, State Supreme Court Justice James P. McCormack ruled that Nassau County must establish a seven-member oversight committee to keep watch over the Nassau jail, a requirement that has been in the county charter for two decades but was never put in place.

The March 24 order, which decided a lawsuit filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union, gave County Executive Edward Mangano 90 days to comply -- and he did, naming seven people within weeks of the decision.

But the seven nominees have not yet been confirmed by the county legislature, a reality that further angers advocates for reform in a jail that has come under scrutiny for having poor mental health and medical care and a spate of suicides above the state average.

On Aug. 5, the full legislature was slated to vote on the confirmations, but Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) suddenly pulled the vote off the agenda.

A spokesman for the Republican legislative majority, Frank Moroney, said that the vote was postponed to give the issue further review. He said the vote would likely take place before the full legislature in September.

But the removal frustrated residents and advocates who -- while glad to know that the Board of Visitors appears to be coming into existence -- had gathered at the meeting to weigh in on the candidates' credentials during the public comment period.

"We were certainly disappointed that after waiting so many months since the judge issued a decision directing the county to fulfill its obligations that, inexplicably, the measure was taken off the agenda with no explanation as to why or when it would come up again," said Jason Starr, director of NYCLU's Nassau chapter.

Starr said about a dozen people, including ex-offenders and relatives of people who have died at the facility, were ready to see the candidates, speak to the legislature about their experiences and underscore the importance of the board.

The Board of Visitors has been granted broad powers by the county charter to look into conditions at the East Meadow jail and make recommendations to the sheriff. Advocates believe such a board would improve life for inmates and staff while making the facility safer.

Some of the Democrats also wanted to meet with the nominees.

"We were looking forward to discussing the candidates in greater detail," said Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport). "They didn't give us a heads-up about the delay. We had put some names forward of people we thought were qualified and those didn't see the light of day, so we wanted to discuss the backgrounds of those who were picked."

Legis. Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury) said she was confused at the delay, too, adding that she had hoped two people the Democrats had offered, attorney John Brickman and nurse Pat Dellatto, both of whom have experience working in correctional settings, would have a shot at being on the board. They were not nominated by Mangano.

Brickman has served on the board that oversees New York City's correctional facilities, and Dellatto once worked as a nurse in the Nassau jail and now runs a re-entry program for ex-offenders on Long Island.

"I was disappointed because I did submit an individual who did pass through the [Rules] committee and I was looking forward to his being confirmed," said Legis. Denise Ford (R-Long Beach). "I hope it's not delayed any later. I would like to get this board in place because 20 years is a long time to wait."

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