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Variances allow Suffolk jail to phase in opening

Pictured is the Suffolk County Minimum Security jail

Pictured is the Suffolk County Minimum Security jail in Yaphank. Photo was taken from outside the check in station. (Feb. 19, 2004) Credit: Newsday/Daniel Goodrich

Suffolk County will begin opening its new $180 million jail in Yaphank in September with variances from the state that will eliminate the need to hire a new class of 50 correction officers and save nearly $13.9 million this year and next.

The state Commission on Corrections issued a ruling in the past week that will allow the new jail, built to house 440 prisoners, to be operated in ways that are more economical for the cash-strapped county, which is facing a $530 million budget hole this year and next.

By opening the jail on a phased-in basis, aides to County Executive Steve Bellone said the county would save $1.8 million this year and would be able to operate the new jail with less staffing than anticipated, saving another $3.7 million next year.

The county had argued that the design of the new jail -- where there is less need to move prisoners around within the structure -- would reduce the staff required from the current one correction officer to every 40 inmates to one officer for every 60 prisoners.

The commission also agreed to reduced staffing levels for a new round-the-clock jail medical unit, saving $1.9 million this year and $6.5 million next year.

The commission had originally ordered the county to have two separate round-the-clock medical units -- one at the existing jail facilities in Yaphank and one in the new jail. Under the agreement, the county will move the existing medical unit to the new jail and only have to add three extra staff to cover a third shift between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Bellone disclosed the savings at the jail as part of a news conference with state lawmakers at which he said legislative action in Albany will give Suffolk $18 million in recurring revenue and save the county $37 million annually in mandate relief.

Earlier this year, Bellone successfully pleaded to restore variances for double bunking 128 inmates at the Riverhead jail after the commission raised concerns about the county's use of a temporary "stress membrane" structure during Tropical Storm Irene. Variances were restored after the county demonstrated that the temporary structure could be evacuated safely. That variance, Bellone aides say, will save the county about $6 million, which would have been spent shipping prisoners to Nassau County and New York City.

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