Dutchess legislators approve bonding for Justice and Transition Center


Poughkeepsie resident Rasonia Squire presented a petition,
through colorofchange.org, which she said contained more
than 3,500 signatures opposing the project

POUGHKEEPSIE – A mostly party-line vote, shortly before 1 this
morning, approved up to $192 million in bonding for the proposed replacement
for the old Dutchess County Jail. 
The seven-hour meeting that preceded included four hours of public comment, the overwhelming majority of it critical of the proposal.  In fact, so many people showed up for the special meeting that many were detained in the first floor lobby because of fire codes, until others spoke and left the sixth floor legislative chamber.
Among the more than 50 speakers, Anesta Vannoy-Kwame, of the Southern Dutchess NAACP, who said what is not needed is sowing seeds of fear. 
“We need to sow programs that improve lives of our economically disadvantaged,” Vannoy-Kwame said.  “We need to sow seeds of youth programs and youth centers, so our children have some place to go.  We need to sow seeds of mentors that can help our children.  We need to have jobs.  We need to sow seeds of better housing.  In short, we need to sow seeds of hope.  We need to sow seeds of community.  We need to sow seeds of love.”
A few other speakers claimed racial motivation in wanting to build a new jail, citing a disproportionate percentage of people of color in incarceration. 
Mary Hannon Williams, president of the Dutchess Democratic Women Caucus
and member of the Criminal Justice Task Force, wanted the vote delayed.
“What we’re asking for is a 90-day delay in order to come up with an alternative plan that addresses the problems that we have in the jail but that does not cost anything near the price that we’re looking at now,” Williams said.
That kind of delay would be problematic, legislators would later note, pointing out the April 1 deadline to approve a bonding resolution.  That deadline was set by the state Commission of Corrections, which said it would pull the county’s authorization to use temporary pods to house the overflow of inmates at the current jail.  That would put the county back in the costly position of having to board inmates in other counties.

Christensen: “… a far more
humane state-of-the art
modern correctional

Retired Dutchess County Jail Administrator Gary Christensen was one of the small handful who defended the proposal, saying the programs that would be incorporated in the Justice and Transition Center would build on highly successful programs currently in place. 
“We’ve developed many evidence-based alternatives to custody; programs to address the needs of higher risk offenders and practices that have resulted in the improvement of the lives of people who are overseen, with our Criminal Justice Council, but we’re simply unable to reach our potential, given this current situation,” Christensen said.   “Not only does this plan offer an opportunity for a far more humane state-of-the art modern correctional environment, it actually saves $5 million a year.”
During the agenda portion of the special meeting, County Executive Marcus Molinaro acknowledged the total cost after 27 years, with interest on the bond, would be $274 million.
“To house out over the same period of time, we estimate that to cost $310 million, so we feel that’s relatively conservative; however, you can see that the housing out cost would be significantly, or at least more than the bonding cost,” Molinaro said.
That did not satisfy Democrat Legislator Joel Tyner.
“We are not making Dutchess County safer with this,” Tyner said.  “We’re traumatizing people.  We’re jailing people who don’t need to be jailed.”
Minority Leader Micki Strawinski also objected to the scope of the proposal.
“This project is too big and too expensive and we need an alternate plan,” Strawinski said.
One of the few Democrats to support the project was former Minority Leader, Barbara Jeter-Jackson, who did have concerns that related to issues raised by many who spoke during public comment. 

Tentative site plan for the JTC. Bottom of drawing faces Hamilton Street

“With the mentally ill individuals that we house at our facilities.  Those with substance abuse.  And, I think all of us realize that this is a problem within our county and it is something that we must address.”
Republican James Miccio noted the April 1 deadline and said acting now was “prudent.”
The vote to approve the bond was 19 to 6, or two more than the two-thirds needed.
Earlier, the legislature voted adopt a negative declaration on environmental issues, which means the county would not need to file an environmental impact statement.
The next phase will be working up a final design for the Center

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