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Erie County jail consolidation plan still far from ready

Erie County Holding Center, Delaware Avenue, Buffalo
WBFO's Eileen Buckley
Erie County Holding Center, Delaware Avenue, Buffalo

The Erie County Sheriff’s Department proposed a plan to the County Legislature to consolidate the area’s jails at a meeting on Tuesday. However, it could be years until it comes to fruition.

“I want to stress that this concept is a long way from being finalized,” said Jail Management Superintendent Thomas Diina.

The plan would include moving low- and medium-risk inmates from the holding center in Buffalo to the county correctional facility in Alden. That would transition the holding center into  the primary location for high-risk inmates, intake, and pre-release transitional services. These services would be through community partnerships with organizations that specialize in community re-entry services to reduce recidivism.

This proposal came after County Executive Mark Poloncarz–along with other local officials–requested a plan from the Sheriff’s Office to decrease their budget by 20%. However, the financial benefits of this consolidation most likely won’t be reaped until 2022.

"There is no plan A, B, C, soup-to-nuts,” said Undersheriff Mark Wipperman. “It was a concept that we sat down and said, 'If we do these certain things, we think we can achieve these budget cuts and these financial cuts.' But there is no game plan."

Peaceprints of Western New York’s Executive Director–Cindi McEachon–asked the Sheriff’s Office administrators what their plan was regarding transportation to the facility in Alden since the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority eliminated their route to the correctional center in 2015. Wipperman said they plan to negotiate a route with the NFTA or find alternative transportation for families and lawyers.

While the fruits of this plan may not show until after the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sheriff’s Department is projected to save nearly $10 million this year through cuts associated with fewer inmates and criminal justice reform. They plan to reduce overtime, eliminate 78 full-time, vacant positions, and cut back on maintenance supplies and food.