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The new St. Lawrence County jail. Photo:
The new St. Lawrence County jail. Photo:

St. Lawrence County's new jail already full

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Three years ago, St. Lawrence County finished work on a state-of-the-art jail that cost taxpayers more than $30 million. It was needed because the old jail on Court Street was outdated and overcrowded.

Today, that new jail is full. And people in the justice system aren't quite sure what to do except wait for the crime rate to go down.

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David Sommerstein
Reporter/ Producer

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As of yesterday, says county jail administrator Daniel Dominie, all 186 beds were accounted for, and he’s worried. “The fact that our numbers are not going to soften anytime soon. It’s taxing on a lot of systems in the facility, both in your medical, your food services, your sanitation.”

So far, Dominie says he’s been able to avoid bunking inmates at other county’s jails, something that used to cost the county millions with the old jail.

One cause of the crowding may be summer vacations that are slowing down the court system. But there are also more long-term problems. Four years of a bad economy is partly to blame, says Gregory Paquin, vice-chair of the St. Lawrence County legislature. “As we see an economic downturn, unfortunately what happens is, the crime rate goes up.”

County Sheriff Kevin Wells has warned of an uptick in drug abuse that’s driving up crime rates. District Attorney Nicole Duvé says she’s seeing a lot of repeat offenders with drug addictions.  “[They] commit crime after crime after crime. Those people probably need to sit in a jail cell for a little bit. Until we get a handle on the drug issue, and the crime that it drives, I don’t know that it’s going to change much. But by the same token sticking someone in a jail cell, you’ll hear people tell you that that’s not the answer to drug addiction. So it’s walking a very fine line.”

County judge Jerome Richards has recommended an alternative sentencing plan to ease jail crowding: Reviving an electronic home monitoring system. But the probation department is against that.

Legislator Greg Paquin is too. He says people sentenced to jail time should remain locked up, not monitored remotely. But he acknowledges there are few other options: “Truly our only option right now is when need be, send them to other county jails. Also any prisoner that’s ready to go to state prison, get them to the state prison as quickly as possible. And then, like we said, hope eventually that we see an economic upswing, and a lot of times when you see an economic upswing, it creates more jobs, and the crime rate goes down.”

One thing that would help solve the problem is a non-starter, financially and politically. The new jail’s designed to accommodate a 120 bed expansion. Paquin says no way. “In these financial times, we just can’t do that.”

Follow David Sommerstein on Twitter @davidncpr.

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