Ulster Jail Has Larger Than Necessary Capacity

KINGSTONUlster County should petition the state to bring the capacity and staffing of the county jail in line with community need using pre-bail reform census numbers. That assessment comes in a just-released audit of the jail operations by County Comptroller March Gallagher’s office.

The audit noted the jail was built and licensed for a maximum capacity of 458 inmates, but prior to bail reform reductions at the beginning of 2020, the average daily census in 2018 was 280 inmates. In 2019, the average daily census was 217 inmates. In 2020 with bail reform, the average daily census dropped to 122.

Despite the declines in the inmate population, there has been no commensurate reduction in staffing or costs, the audit found, noted Gallagher.

“Even before bail reform, we should have been taking action to reduce the size of the facility, which requires the sheriff to petition to the New York State Commission on Correction, have them issue a new maximum facility capacity number and then do a new staffing requirement,” she said.

The comptroller said the county “faces severe revenue shortfalls requiring us to examine every expense for efficiencies as Ulster County faces gut-wrenching 2021 budget decisions.”

She is disappointed that the county did not request changes to capacity and staffing when inmate numbers began to decline in 2017 and 2018.

“The jail is a shrine to a bygone era of mass incarceration,” said County Executive Patrick Ryan. “In light of our reckoning with systemic inequities in our criminal justice system and our dire financial situation, now more than ever we need to take urgent action.”

He said he will be working with the county, legislature, Sheriff Juan Figueroa and the community “to find a modern and just solution.”

The comptroller’s office also found the sheriff’s annual report was prepared prior to accounting for all year-end expenses causing the report to erroneously claim a decrease in expenses of 8.5 percent compared to the prior year, when, in fact, 2019 expenses increased by 5.8 percent over 2018.

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