Erie County Legislature approves jail advisory board

Jun 21, 2019

Erie County will be getting a Corrections Specialist Advisory Board. It comes after a vote in the County Legislature Thursday in a meeting that involved some personal insults among members and a lot of citizens and supporters of the board in the Legislature Chambers.

The board will provide advice and oversight over the Holding Center and the jail in Alden. Creation of the board reflects strong feelings by some powerful people about the way Sheriff Tim Howard runs the two.

Retired lawyer Nan Haynes helped write the law creating the board. Haynes said there are other law enforcement operations that need hard looks.

"It is a systemic issue, but as you said, they are not covered by the law," Haynes said. "I have not moved on to those other pens, but I think there does need to be some attention paid to the Buffalo City Lockup."

While a number of people have died in the Holding Center, one person died in the city lockup June 1 of an as yet-to-be determined cause. Lockport also is dealing with the death of a person being taken into custody and that cause has yet to be determined.

The Legislature session had a series of recesses and some personal attacks on members, like Majority Leader Joseph Lorigo going after board supporter and Legislature Chairperson April Baskin.

"All that shows is that the politics that you and I have discussed taking out of this body are already here," Lorigo said. "The politics that we want to get rid of, I thought we wanted to get rid of are so incredibly pervasive, with everything that's going on, that if you really wanted to get rid of them you could."

Baskin sees the new board as important in eliminating serious deficiencies in a Jail Management Division that needs help. She said there will be budget savings and better care of those in custody.

"This is not going to cost the taxpayers anything, but save us money, on beds in the Holding Center," Baskin said, "and allow for us to provide educational initiatives and allow for us to provide for better situations when it comes to addressing mental health and disparities that the county has at one point been sued for in terms of malpractice."

The future course of the Holding Center is more than a little up in the air, since the new state law on bail potentially would drastically thin out the Holding Center populatiom by limiting the number of people who can are interested in bonds.