Sheriff eyes programs to reduce overcrowding

MAYVILLE — Chautauqua County Sheriff Joe Gerace has proposed new ideas for lowering incarceration rates at the county jail.

Gerace handed out packets of information regarding each new idea at a recent meeting of the Chautauqua County Community Justice Council, a group that looks to reduce incarceration rates. Those programs included Law Enforcement Assisted Division (LEAD) and Ontario County’s Weekender program. The Chautauqua County Jail held more than 280 inmates as recent as January, according to criminaljustice.ny.gov. The sheriff has long been searching for ways to reduce the jail population and recently the two programs he suggested would do just that.According to Gerace, the county would save money if it implemented a weekend program for inmates. Gerace said a third-party contractor could be hired, and through probation, the convicted individual serves their sentence on the weekends.

“I think it has great promise,” Gerace said.

Meanwhile, LEAD works as an alternative to incarceration, depending on the severity of the crime. Gerace explained to the council that defendants get a choice when arrested; the individual can either continue with the arrest or be handed over to a case management officer. The officer would then take the individual to a safe place and offer them services. Gerace emphasized that only certain types of crimes are eligible for this program.

The sheriff said the program caught his eye and that law enforcement in Albany has begun implementing it.

“They don’t arrest them, they immediately divert them to case management,” Gerace said.

If the individual arrested accepts going into case management, the arrest does not take place and therefore is never on the individual’s record.

“It keeps them from the system, it keeps them from getting convictions that might prevent from employment,” Gerace said.

He noted that the program would be offered to those arrested for possession of drugs and not to those who were in possession of a quantity that would implicate the sale of drugs. The program also offers services to prostitutes and those accused of petit larceny.

“This has grown to be quite a program and there’s been some scientific research on it already,” he said.

Gerace said implementation in Seattle, Wash., has seen a long-term success rate as high as 50 percent with recidivism.

“They get a choice, either go through with the arrest or case management comes,” he said.

The case management agency would be given to an organization around the area fit for the job. Gerace thought the program has potential for success in the county.

The sheriff admitted that because of the geography of Chautauqua County — and the distance between each town — there would have to be case management officers close enough to each area to be able to respond quickly.

Gerace left the council with information from places in the country that have implemented this program. The sheriff pointed out that it would help the individual from keeping a clean record, seek help and lower the county jail population.

The services that a LEAD program could potentially offer include transitional or permanent housing and drug treatment.

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