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Erie County Cited for Staffing Shortages at Holding Center

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – Erie County could face sanctions by the State Commission on Corrections for failing to address the mental health needs of its inmates.

According to a report issued this week, the State Commission has cited the county for the death of an inmate who took his life at the Holding Center last year.

County Mental Health Commissioner Philip R. Endress delivered the news to county lawmakers at a budget hearing Tuesday. Endress said he still needs to read the report thoroughly. However, he said it appears the state's investigation found that adequate mental health staffing at the Holding Center might have been able to assess the inmate's mental illness, posssibly preventing his suicide.

To avoid state sanctions, he said the county must develop a plan to immediately restore two positions.

"They take their job very seriously, as well they should," said Endress. "And they want to make sure that inmates that are in the care and custody of the sheriff receive appropriate medical an mental health treatment services while they are in the care and custody of the sheriff. And they have broad powers and authority to make that happen.

Endress said failure to comply could mean fines or even a lawsuit if someone decided to sue the county based upon the report.

He said the department will need about $40,000 of additional county funding in 2007, to suppliment other funding sources, to restore the two mental health workers.

But the mental health department isn't the only one standing in line for extra county help.

Buffalo and Erie County Library System Director Michael Mahaney also told lawmakers Tuesday that the scaled back system needs some relief.

"We're not prepared to ask for an amount, although I will certainly advise the legislature that if they want to sustain the library system as it is today - and I'm not going backward. I'm not trying to reopen closed libraries - but if they want to sustain the service that we have today, allow our libraries to meet minimum standards, we are going to need more money in 2007."

Without more money, Mahaney said there might have to be more library branch closings.

Lawmakers are holding the mid-year budget hearings this week hoping to grapple with a host of funding needs before the 2007 budget is submitted later this year.

Meanwhile, the administration is struggling to close what is projected right now as a roughly $50 million gap for 2007.