Ulster County is expected to lose nearly $1 million in jail boarding fees this year after a major client, the Greene County Sheriff’s Office, opted to send overflow inmates to Albany County’s jail instead.
Meanwhile, the construction of a new jail in Dutchess County and the state legislature’s recent abolition of cash bail for many crimes could further lower average inmate counts at the 488-bed facility.
Since opening more than a decade ago after a long and costly construction process, the Ulster County Jail has provided revenue for the county in the form of boarding fees paid by other counties and the state and the federal government for lodging inmates there. The funds are funneled into the county’s general fund to help offset the tax levy. Last year, other law enforcement agencies paid $730,000 to place inmates in the county jail. In 2017, boarding fees amounted to $900,000.
But those days may be over. In a memo earlier this month, county Budget Director Burt Gulnick Jr. warned of a shortfall of nearly $1 million in projected boarding fees for 2019.
Sheriff Juan Figueroa said this week that the shortfall stemmed mainly from a decision by Greene County Sheriff Gregory Seeley to stop boarding inmates in Ulster County and send them to the Albany County Jail instead. The move occurred in January, shortly after Figueroa took office after unseating longtime incumbent Paul VanBlarcum. Figueroa said that he did not know what prompted Seeley’s decision, adding that his fellow sheriff had not returned several calls seeking to discuss the matter. (Seeley also didn’t return calls from the Kingston Times seeking comment).
“Each sheriff has responsibility for their own inmates,” said Figueroa. “And if [Seeley] wants to move them out of our county jail and board them somewhere else, that’s his prerogative.”
The Ulster County Jail still boards a number of inmates from Dutchess County. But that could change later this year when a new and larger facility opens in Poughkeepsie. Figueroa said that he anticipated a mid-year surge in boarded inmates from Dutchess County this summer as his cross-river counterpart, Butch Anderson, makes the shift to the new jail.
But a more dramatic and long-lasting impact on the population at the Ulster County Jail could come next year when recently enacted criminal justice reform legislation takes effect. The new law would end cash bail for all misdemeanor and non-violent felony crimes. According to Figueroa, about 60 percent of the inmates in the county jail are there on bail. (The rest are serving sentences of a year or less imposed by local or county courts).
Figueroa said he expects to see a dramatic drop-off in daily inmate counts (which currently average about 300) in the months after the legislation goes into effect. Figueroa said he had spoken with law enforcement officials in New Jersey which recently enacted its own bail reform program.
But based on those conversations, and his own long experience in law enforcement, Figueroa said he thinks inmate counts will bounce back, as those granted release on recognizance fail to make court appearances or violate bail conditions and find themselves back behind bars.
“Human nature is going to dictate that a certain percentage of people, who don’t respect the law in the first place, aren’t going to come to court so we’re going to set up a warrant squad to go get them,” said Figueroa. “It’s not going to be the same numbers we have now, but I believe those numbers will level off eventually.”