By Mike Hibbard
HOPEWELL (New York) — The Ontario County Board of Supervisors has backed several measures designed to reduce the number of inmates incarcerated at the county jail — and to lower costs related to the operation of the facility.
At their meeting Thursday night, supervisors approved resolutions that came from a group dubbed the “Campbell Commission.” It was named for West Bloomfield Supervisor Todd Campbell, who leads a panel that looks at alternatives to incarceration.
The committee, which is made up of supervisors, county department heads and members of community organizations, started meeting last fall to look at new programs that would lower the jail population. The group meets twice a month.
One measure the board approved was a contract for a weekend jail alternative program with the Finger Lakes Area Counseling & Recovery Agency. It offers courts in the county an alternative sentencing option for some drug offenders.
Under the administration of the county probation department, FLACRA will offer intensive programming on Saturdays and Sundays instead of those people being held at the county jail. The program can accommodate 15-18 people.
“With the current drug crisis in our community on the rise, as it is across the nation, we are eager to provide additional tools to our courts to provide specific treatment for affected individuals as well as divert such individuals from jail time,” county Administrator Mary Krause said. “The cost of one day in the Ontario County Jail is estimated at $175. We believe that we can provide cost-effective alternatives to deal with the problems an individual might face, and we hope we can keep some people out of the system entirely. We are willing to try.”
The board also approved a contract with Sentinel Offender Services to provide pretrial electronic home monitoring. Currently, the county probation department has post-sentence monitoring at defendant expense.
“We hope this is a cost-effective alternative to setting bail for lower-risk offenses,” Krause said.
The devices will be available at cost to the offender on a sliding scale based on federal poverty guidelines. It is estimated that up to 10 people at a time can be assigned devices this year under the new initiative.
The board also agreed to back state legislation aimed at housing some parole violators in state prisons instead of county jails. Sheriff Phil Povero said it would apply to parolees who violate for non-criminal matters, such as failing a drug test.
Povero noted there are currently 23 such violators in the county jail now. The proposed state legislation would send those violators to a state facility 72 hours after they are put in jail.
In 2015, Povero more than 120 of those violators spent time at the county jail at a cost of more than $700,000.
The final measure was the county joining the “Stepping Up” Initiative. The national initiative is designed to reduce the number of people with mental illness in jails across the country, which is estimated at more than 2 million.
Campbell said Ontario County is the seventh county in the state to join the cause. It is being led by the National Association of Counties, the Council of State Governments and the American Psychiatric Foundation.
The initiative will build on innovative and proven practices being implemented across the country to keep people with mental illness and substance abuse issues from being behind bars.
“This is an opportunity to help raise awareness of this issue and apply for state and federal funds,” he said.