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Erie County Corrections Board approves starting MAT program for Holding Center inmates

A jail cell at the Erie County Holding Center
File Photo

The Erie County Holding Center still needs medically assisted treatment for drug use by those arrestees inside. The county's Corrections Specialist Advisory Board said it's time to stop talking about it and spend the money.

Drug-fogged residents are nothing new for the downtown Buffalo facility and the county's budget has included $1 million to start what's called MAT since before the COVID pandemic. The Sheriff's Department, which runs the Holding Center, is also willing, although giving the actual medication would be handled by the county's Mental Health Department.

"Urgency of the MAT program is, I think, in our face. It has been a urgent matter for prisoners who have been at the Holding Center and who are going into the Holding Center now," said Board Member Baba Eng. "So I think the sooner we get on top of that the better,"

The big cost is more staff for the workers handling health and mental health at the Holding Center. They are not employees of the Sheriff's Department.

The advisory board was told that the $1 million already available would pay for more than a year of the program, but there is concern about follow-up cash for later years.

"This is not a sort of a flash in the pan sort of thing," said Board Member Michael Ranney. "You've got to keep doing this. And the opiate epidemic isn't over. In fact, there are more overdoses and people are still dying."

In the past, there has been some discussion that having this program at the Holding Center conflicts with current state law to keep people out of jail for almost all arrests.

Board members decided to put together a plan on getting the program standing up. It requires the Mental Health Department, the Sheriff's Department and the County Legislature to process the paperwork and authorization to start MAT working.

"So instead of like doing this whole back-and-forth for another year, why don't we just definitively plot out a map of what needs to happen, who needs to give what approvals, who needs to write what resolutions and then we advocate for that plan and move it forward," said Board Member Miles Gresham.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.