County on hook is a crime

On a recent, humdrum Tuesday, Chautauqua County taxpayers spent $1,955 to house 23 jail inmates in neighboring county jails because the Mayville lock-up was too full.

What must really upset taxpayers, however, is the fact the Chautauqua County Jail was housing 22 people who hadn’t committed a crime in Chautauqua County, also at county expense. All told, taxpayers were on the hook for roughly $4,000.

How were these 22 people in the jail if they hadn’t committed a crime in Chautauqua County?

These 23 people had violated terms of their New York state parole. Such violations can range from missing a curfew or appointment with a parole officer to contacting a victim. Because they committed the technical violation in Chautauqua County, they are housed in the Mayville facility until the state prison system is ready to accept the prisoners.

With a cost of a few thousand dollars in one day, this isn’t the worst of the unfunded mandates local officials deal with, but it’s a real doozy nonetheless. The cherry on top of this triple-decker sundae of lunacy is this system wasn’t created by elected officials, for whom there is at least the appearance of accountability at the voting booth. This sundae was created by the New York State Court of Appeals in 1987 in the little-known case of County of Nassau v. Mario M. Cuomo, as Governor and Chief Executive Officer of the State of New York, et al., Respondents, and New York State Division of Parole, Intervenor-Respondent. Thirty years ago, Nassau County took the state to court because its jail was overcrowded. One way county officials planned to reduce the overcrowding was to have the state prison system accept technical violators more quickly. The court ruled the county had to house the parole violators but declined to rule on a request from both sides to define the term “forthwith” that would set a limit on the amount of time a technical parole violator would spend in a local county jail.

Chautauqua County has a hard enough time handling its jail population without the state taking up space unnecessarily, and taxpayers have better uses for tax money than housing people in the county jail who haven’t committed a crime against anyone in the county. The state must either take these technical violators from county jails immediately or, at the very least, allow counties to bill the state the cost of housing technical violators. State legislation is needed to reverse the Court of Appeals decision. We hope it comes in the next legislative session.