The Onondaga County Legislature voted Tuesday to close Jamesville Correctional Facility.
Legislators made the decision by voting to abolish staff positions at Jamesville and move the positions to the Onondaga County jail.
They ratified the vote 9-8. All Democrats voted against the proposal. Two Republicans, Ken Bush Jr., who represents the 13th district, and Mark Olson, who represents the 10th district, voted against the proposal.
“I think we needed more time,” Olson said. “I don’t think anyone in the sheriff’s office or anyone I’ve talked to — and I’ve talked to a lot of people — is opposed to consolidation and correction or rightsizing. They want a process.”
Legislators closed Jamesville by voting on four separate pieces of legislation. They were:
- A resolution proposing that staff positions at Jamesville be abolished and corresponding positions be created at the Onondaga County jail (passed, 9-8).
- A county charter amendment that struck mentions of “corrections” from the job description of Onondaga County Sheriff Toby Shelley (passed, 10-7).
- A resolution to require Shelley to create a plan to move staff and incarcerated people from Jamesville to the jail (passed 10-7).
- A resolution imposing a moratorium on any sale of the land Jamesville Correctional Facility sits on for at least a year (passed 11-6).
The first resolution approved had an April 1 deadline to close Jamesville. Shelley said he would not make a plan to close the correctional facility before the New York State Commission of Correction completed a feasibility study.
Shelley said he expected the vote to pass because “the political fix was in.” The sheriff met with County Executive Ryan McMahon Jan. 30 because Shelley requested a meeting, but Shelley said he was not additionally briefed on the proposal.
“I will follow that study because that’s what I have to do,” Shelley said. “If their study disagrees with this group, I don’t know what (the Legislature will do). I follow the Commission of Correction.”
McMahon and former sheriff Eugene Conway proposed closing Jamesville Correctional Facility in December of last year.
The proposal drew the ire of Shelley, a Democrat, who said he needed more time to evaluate a potential closure. Democratic legislators have railed against the plan.
A slew of sheriff’s deputies and corrections officers sat in the crowd for the Legislature session on Tuesday.
The Legislature session on Tuesday ran about three hours at least in part because of a more than 30-minute comment period and contentious back and forth between legislators.
During a public comment period, at least eight people spoke in opposition to the proposal. CSEA Local 834 President Dan Vadala, a member of jail ministry, corrections officers and others railed against the proposal.
Yvonne Griffin and Darlene Medley, two community members, questioned how the vote would affect those incarcerated. Medley mentioned that a program at Jamesville that allows mothers to be incarcerated with their children that she worried would not be as exist or be as effective at the jail.
The jail is worse than Jamesville as a facility, she said.
“I don’t know about nobody dying at Jamesville,” Medley said. “I know about three people dying at the justice center.”
Griffin worried about the classification of those incarcerated. Often incarcerated people cannot be put in the same areas of the jail because they are considered more or less dangerous than others around them.
Some incarcerated individuals need more space because of their classification. Griffin said that when she’s been incarcerated at the jail, her classification prevents her from being put with others at the jail in her cell.
“You guys are going to make chaos,” Griffin said.
On Tuesday, Legislator Chris Ryan and Bush separately tried to table the vote. Each of the Democratic legislators argued that holding a vote just two months after the proposal was introduced and about 40 days after Shelley became sheriff was too quick.
Echoing words Shelley spoke during a public comment period, Legislator Mary Kuhn on the Legislature floor asked rhetorically about the vote: “What’s the hurry?”
She argued the Legislature has become an extension of the county executive’s office.
McMahon’s administration has said closing Jamesville is necessary to fix a staffing issue at the jail and to avoid legal liability for not being able to transport defendants to in-person court appearances.
The New York State Office of Indigent Legal Services notified the county last year it was out of compliance with a 2014 court settlement. The case, referred to as the Hurrell-Harring case, requires the county to allow defendants to have in-person arraignments.
The county administration has said that there are too few incarcerated people at Jamesville and far more corrections officers. Moving all people incarcerated in the county to the jail would fill the jail to a little more than 80% of its capacity while potentially adding significant staff, Deputy County Executive Ann Rooney has said.
On Tuesday, Republican majority leader Brian May, who represents the first district, introduced a one-year moratorium on selling the land Jamesville sits on to help quell opposition. It passed its vote.
He said that would give the Legislature enough time to see if closing Jamesville fixed the problems the county has said exist.
Olson, who voted against closing the facility, but voted for the moratorium and for putting the plan to close the facility in Shelley’s hands, said the moratorium at least keeps the facility in the Legislature’s control.
It could give the Legislature to reverse course or adjust based on any findings by the state Commission of Correction.
“We control the destiny of what happens to it,” Olson said.
Editor’s note: This story incorrectly said the vote passed by a count of 10-7. The vote passed 9-8. Legislator Mark Olson, a Republican, also voted against the proposal.
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