Democratic members of the Nassau legislature want to meet with County Executive Edward Mangano and Nassau Sheriff Michael Sposato to bring a committee designed to oversee the East Meadow-based jail into compliance with the County Charter.
In a March 7 note to Mangano and Sposato, Legis. Siela Bynoe (D-Westbury) said the Board of Visitors “has not been fulfilling its legal mandate” to keep order and maintain inmate safety in a facility that has seen several inmate deaths -- six in 2016 alone -- and other violence, creating “an intolerable situation which must be rectified.”
Bynoe made some of her concerns known during a session of the full county legislature last week when she questioned members of the Board of Visitors as they were being reappointed. The all-volunteer group was formed by an amendment to the county charter nearly three decades ago but not constituted until December 2013. It has broad powers to investigate inmate complaints and make recommendations to the sheriff to improve conditions.
The charter mandates the group “investigate, review or take such other actions as shall be deemed necessary or proper with respect to inmate complaints or grievances regarding the correctional center as shall be called to their attention in writing.”
Brian Nevin, a spokesman for Mangano, denied Bynoe’s claims, saying the board “operates in accordance with the county Charter and the County Attorney will address Bynoe’s questions and inaccuracies.”
Sposato did not respond to a request for comment.
All six Mangano appointees were appointed last week, five of them for the second time, while one new member was appointed. But the voting fell along party lines, with seven Democrats voting against them and 12 Republicans voting in favor of the appointments.
Bynoe said in the letter and during questioning last week that the board, which has little to no budget and does not meet on a monthly basis, has fallen far short of the goal intended when the Charter was amended to address critical problems in the facility, such as overcrowding and medical care.
“Regrettably, based on the testimony of the board members before the Legislature, it is clear that the Visitors’ Board has not been fulfilling its legal mandate under the Charter and is not equipped to do so in the future,” she wrote.
Bynoe and other Democratic legislators said they were disturbed by the fact that the Board of Visitors had not been proactive in reaching out to inmates or their families to resolve issues.
Board of Visitors member Helen Meittinis said the group has received only a handful of inmate complaints since its members were confirmed by the legislature in December 2013 – 23 years after the group was written into the county charter.
Bynoe’s letter also chided jail officials for not alerting inmates of the existence of the Board of Visitors, the lack of support staff for the group to perform its duties and access to attorneys who are independent of the county.
The group has been advised by counsel from the county attorney’s office since its inception.
“The role of independent legal advisor cannot be played by a member of the County Attorney’s Office whose primary responsibility is to represent the Administration,” read the letter.
Bynoe also urged county officials to clarify whether the Board of Visitors are indemnified so they may conduct business on sensitive matters without fear of personal legal or financial risk.
“Fear of personal financial liability cannot be permitted to inhibit Board members from vigorously carrying out their duties,” she wrote.