Clergy members call on county for jail release program

Apr 23, 2014

After being rebuffed for several weeks dozens of local clergy showed up unannounced at Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz's office to push for the reinstatement of a conditional release program at the county jail.

Clergy members made a surprise appearance at the office of Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.
Credit Chris Caya/WBFO news

The county had a conditional release program from 1992 to 2005, according to Rev. Dan Schifeling of VOICE Buffalo.

He says releasing non-violent offenders a few months early reintegrates them with the community faster. The recidivism rate goes down and for every person not in jail, taxpayers save a $175 each day.

"Veterans who may be in there for PTSD, other people suffering from mental illnesses, if they get this early release then they are in a position where they can get better treatment on the outside than they can on the inside. And really nothing is happening in the County Jail right now that would benefit them," Schifeling said.

"This is only non-violent prisoners that are everybody wins all the way around."  
After meeting with Schifeling and other clergy Tuesday,  Poloncarz said the probation department has fewer staff due to budget cuts the past 10 years. But Poloncarz says if the clergy can secure a grant to cover the cost ,he'd be interested in re-instituting the program.

"There's an independently-elected official, the Sheriff, who has a say in this, as well as independently elected judges who have to approve the early release," Poloncarz pointed out.

"So, I don't want them to go  under the assumption that I could just make the call and that it will happen."