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Unclaimed Nassau jail funds eyed for youth programs

Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos is shown discussing

Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos is shown discussing Nassau County's year-end financial report in Mineola on June 12, 2013. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau Comptroller George Maragos suggested Wednesday that $570,000 in unclaimed funds from the County Correctional Center commissary be transferred to the general fund to bolster youth programs.

The comptroller's office discovered the funds last year during an audit of the East Meadow jail's operations. The money, by law, is available for county use after being unclaimed for at least six years.

"It would seem appropriate these reclaimed funds be used for programs that keep our youth off the streets and out of jails," Maragos said.

Commissary funds are used by county inmates to purchase food, toiletries and other items not typically provided by the jail administration. The average unclaimed account has about $26, the comptroller said.

All inmates are made aware of their commissary fund balance upon being released, but often don't claim them because of the low balances. The money eligible for transfer was accumulated between 1990 and 2007, and has been held in a treasurer's office trust fund.

Maragos said he will soon formally request that money be moved to the county general fund and earmarked for the Nassau County Youth Board. Such a move would need approval from Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and the county legislature.

Brian Nevin, a Mangano spokesman, said that the administration "appreciates the comptroller's determination." He didn't indicate whether Mangano would support using the funds for youth programs.

Legislative Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said through a spokeswoman that Maragos' suggestion is "worthwhile," but "must be balanced against all other obligations of the county."

Maragos' audit in December concluded the jail had lax cash management leading to thousands of dollars in unnecessary inmate expenses. The report found that correction employees bypassed the county purchasing department and didn't always select the lowest prices when buying commissary items.

The sheriff's department, which runs the jail, disputed many of the audit findings, saying funds used to stock the commissary are not public and therefore not subject to county procurement regulations. The commissary handles roughly $1.3 million in withdrawals and deposits each year, officials said.

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