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Editorial: Study Foley's potential to help Suffolk jail issues

A March 27, 2013 photo of the John

A March 27, 2013 photo of the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility which, according to Suffolk public works officials, would need $146-million to be remade into jail space. Credit: James Carbone

With the state Commission of Correction breathing down Suffolk County's neck and the closed John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility in Yaphank sitting empty, it's wise to look for ways to make Foley meet the county's correction needs. The commission wants more cells built in Suffolk, but at a cost of at least $100 million, creating another traditional jail isn't the best idea.

Many inmates in Suffolk's cells are nonviolent offenders with drug and alcohol problems. Quite a few simply can't afford to post bonds. Sheriff Vincent DeMarco has adamantly argued that the answer is more alternative sentencing and programs to prevent recidivism, not more cells.

A building like Foley, already divided into rooms and constructed as a medical facility, might present a fresh asset to address jail overcrowding and a lack of drug rehabilitation and counseling services.

Suffolk Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) has called for a feasibility study to determine within 120 days if such a plan could work financially and operationally. That's exactly what's needed.

Taxpayers need to know what Foley could bring on the open market, both in cash from a sale and in property taxes, for the county's empty coffers. If the building stays in county hands, the study must determine what using Foley for incarceration and/or rehabilitation could save, and what such a makeover would cost.

The state Commission of Correction needs to give Suffolk, which just opened a new jail earlier this year, a chance to explore this potentially smarter and cheaper solution.

The never-completed sale and the eventual closure of Foley represent a huge failure, but a little creativity and common sense might at least soften the consequences.