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New Yaphank jail designed to need fewer guards

Walking through the shell of the under-construction Suffolk County jail, you could be forgiven for thinking you are meandering through an in-progress shopping mall.

But when the new Yaphank jail is finished, it will be far from a center of commerce. With 440 cells across six pods, a dormitory and a medical unit, the jail is expected to be on the cutting-edge of incarceration technology. And its modular design will allow the county to easily add cells in the future.

The jail, formally the Suffolk County Correctional Facility, will operate under a direct supervision model, which aims to maximize the number of inmates that can be monitored by a single correction officer. Unlike the Riverhead jail, where one officer can keep watch on 40 inmates, the new facility's architectural and security advances will allow one officer to monitor up to 60, said Deputy Chief Michael Sharkey of the Suffolk County Sheriff's Department.

"The inmates in the direct supervision model require less movement because the majority of their needs are met within the housing area, so there's less manpower needed to monitor those inmates," Sharkey said.

This is the rationale that County Executive Steve Levy has used to argue that Suffolk can get by with fewer than the state-mandated 200 new correction officers to staff the 317,000-square-foot facility.

"In a correctional facility you're not just guarding inmates per se, you're securing space," Sharkey said. "So all of that new space has to be secured."

Once filled to capacity, the jail will relieve the worst-in-the-state overcrowding at the existing Riverhead and Yaphank jails. Still, Sharkey cautioned that it may not allow Suffolk to increase the number of inmates it houses.

Though the number fluctuates daily depending on the flow of crime, Suffolk typically has about 1,800 inmates in total at its Riverhead, Yaphank and DWI facilities. That's far more than state officials would like.

Because the county is operating now with permission for 511 inmates over capacity, the new jail may not increase the total number of inmates the county can house.

"If the professional staff at the commission goes to look at inmates and you have a plan to deal with it, then we may expand capacity," said Thomas Beilein, the chairman of the state Commission of Corrections.

Sharkey said the jail will require three daily crews of 100 correction officers to patrol the jail.

Jail timeline

2002-04

Jail construction funds authorized

in capital budget.

Jan. 25, 2007

First contract

awarded

Spring 2007

Ground broken.

March 2010

Initial deadline

for hiring new

class of 50

correction

officers.

Sept. 10

Extended deadline for hiring new class of 50 correction

officers.

January, May

and September

of 2011

New classes of

50 more correction

officers each

scheduled.

December 2011

Jail due to be

completed.

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