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Jail decision a win for Suffolk taxpayers

The Suffolk County Jail in Riverhead is seen

The Suffolk County Jail in Riverhead is seen here on Feb, 2, 2006. Credit: Newsday / Daniel Goodrich

Score a victory for sound judgment. State officials have put on hold a mandate that Suffolk County build a new jail. That's the right call, and something we have long supported.

The decision was a reversal in thinking by the Commission of Correction, which in 2004 ordered Suffolk to build a new facility to address chronic overcrowding in its jails. That was a reasonable demand then, and Suffolk opened a gleaming 420-bed addition to its jail in Yaphank in 2013. But the state mandate called for 360 more beds, which became increasingly unnecessary as Suffolk's jail population plummeted.

The decline is due partly to decreasing crime locally and nationally. Suffolk's expanding program of releasing and supervising pretrial detainees rather than keeping them in jail also has played a role, as have county diversion programs that emphasize treatment for addicts and rehabilitation for young people as alternatives to incarceration.

The decision also is a financial triumph for the cash-strapped county. Planning and design were budgeted at $2 million this year and construction at $110 million over the next three years, a hefty chunk of Suffolk's three-year capital program. The state decision frees the county to invest in things that will benefit Suffolk a lot more than jail cells.

The state says it will revisit its decision in three to five years. So now it's up to Suffolk to continue its good work in reducing inmate numbers and banish the new-jail mandate forever.