ALBANY -- Despite years of warnings, Nassau jail officials have failed to fix unlawful conditions, including filthy showers and the overuse of solitary confinement, the state's jail overseer said.
These violations and others are prompting the state to threaten to issue the jail a rare, final warning to clean up conditions or face a lawsuit to force compliance with state standards.
"There's like a half-dozen jails across the state that we have concerns about," said state Commission of Correction chairman Thomas Beilein. "The problem with Nassau is it's such a large facility . . . and a facility of that size needs to be run better than this one is being run."
In the latest salvo of the battle between the jail and the commission, Beilein Wednesday said that he would not allow jail officials to rent more of their 500 or so empty jail cells to Suffolk County until Nassau clears "all of the long outstanding violations."
The rejection of the plan to house Suffolk's overflow inmates -- which Nassau officials on Tuesday assured the Nassau Interim Finance Authority would be a virtually guaranteed source of revenue -- is another blow to a county that is struggling to close a $176-million budget gap. The cells could be rented for about $125 per inmate per day, totaling $4.6 million a year for every 100 cells leased.
Elizabeth Loconsolo, the jail's attorney and spokeswoman, called the dispute over the jail's compliance "a professional disagreement," saying the commission applies its regulations inconsistently "from jail to jail within the state." Asked if the jail was having trouble meeting state standards, she said "absolutely not."
The jail has resolved many of the violations the state has cited since December 2008. But Beilein said other serious ones persist at the 1,500-inmate facility, the state's largest county lockup.
Inspectors in October 2009 found insects crawling on piles of inmates' outdoor clothing, and improper laundry practices that caused the infestation have not been fixed. They found chronically dirty and broken showers in "deplorable" condition. And they said jail officials relied too often on segregating inmates from the general jail population before they had been found guilty of violations.
She denied that the jail improperly uses solitary confinement -- and said that it deploys the sanction only when an inmate "constitutes a threat to the security, safety and good order" of the jail.
Beilein was alarmed that the jail has cut several top positions, a move he said makes "it difficult at best to monitor your own facility." Having more senior staff could help resolve many of the outstanding violations and help keep tensions inside the jail to a minimum, he said.
Loconsolo countered that the jail's management structure meets standards established by the commission in 1995.
Beilein said it is rare that a facility disputes so many of the commission's findings. "That is unique to Nassau," Beilein said.
Beilein warned that if Nassau doesn't strengthen the management of the jail and clear up the violations, the commission would issue the directive warning of a lawsuit.