Legislature approves study for youth court
Dutchess County has selected a general contractor to build a $134 million, 328-bed replacement for its antiquated jail, a years-long project that Democrats on the Legislature unsuccessfully sought to delay after a state bail-reform law dramatically reduced the number of inmates held by the county.
The Legislature also on Tuesday (Oct. 13) approved spending $15,000 to study the creation of a youth court such as the one that exists in Putnam County, or some other “restorative justice” program for minors.
The Pike Co., which is based in Rochester, will oversee the construction of the jail complex on the site of the current facility in Poughkeepsie. It will combine six housing units of 50 beds each with a 28-bed unit for inmates with medical and mental-health issues. A New Jersey firm was selected to install the security system.
The project is scheduled to be completed in March 2023 and occupied in June or July of that year, officials said. It will cost about $20 million less than the $154 million that the Legislature authorized, Robert Balkind, the county’s public works commissioner, said on Tuesday in a presentation to the Legislature’s Public Safety Committee.
A building from 1985 that is part of the current facility will be demolished, while one constructed in 1995 will be repurposed. Temporary pods that the county leased, then purchased, in response to overcrowding will be demolished unless the county finds someone who wants to buy or salvage the structures, Balkind said.
“It’s going to be a very attractive asset to the neighborhood,” he said.
Democratic county legislators — including Nick Page and Frits Zernike, who each represent parts of Beacon — tried in July to overturn a 2016 vote that authorized the county to borrow up to $192 million to build the jail and a headquarters for the Sheriff’s Department, which has already been completed. They cited the falling inmate population as well as unexpected revenue shortfalls due to the COVID-19 shutdown. The proposal died in committee, 8-4, along party lines.
The jail averaged 133 inmates a day in September, according to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, compared to 303 in September 2019. But at the time of the 2016 vote, the jail was overcrowded and inmates were being housed in the temporary housing pods, which, according to the report released in May by the county Comptroller’s Office, cost Dutchess $7.3 million. Other inmates were being sent to jails in other counties at a cost of $6 million to $8 million annually.
In addition, a February 2018 report from the state Commission of Correction ranked Dutchess among the five “worst offenders” when it came to health and safety risks for inmates and staff. Past evaluations faulted the county for not providing adequate medical care, mandated youth education services and even bras to female inmates. In 2011, an inmate committed suicide by hanging; another did so in 2014.
County Executive Marc Molinaro said the county cannot “continue to warehouse souls in an inhuman, unsafe facility built at a time when they didn’t care and they threw away the key.” He and Legislature Chair Gregg Pulver, both Republicans, have said that the new jail will be safer, allow for more programming for inmates and save an estimated $4 million annually by eliminating the need through its design for 100 of the current 235 corrections-officer positions.
After Balkind’s presentation, the full Legislature met and approved several resolutions, including one to study the youth court concept. In the Putnam County program, created in 1988, teenage volunteers hear cases involving first-time offenders up to age 17, including charges of assault, burglary, drug possession and harassment.
Such courts have “proven track records” in preventing youth “from becoming repeat offenders,” said Dutchess Legislator Craig Brendli, who represents parts of the city and town of Poughkeepsie and was the resolution’s lead sponsor.