Judicial and Public Safety Committee

The Caygua County Legislature's Judicial and Public Safety Committee heard a plan Wednesday from Sheriff David Gould to hire a transitional care coordinator to help jail inmates re-acclimate to civilian life after release.

AUBURN — The Cayuga County Sheriff's Office is looking to be among the first counties in the state with a specialized position to help jail inmates transition to civilian life, which Sheriff David Gould said would be the right thing to do both morally and financially.

At Wednesday's Cayuga County Legislature's Judicial and Public Safety Committee meeting, Gould said he'd like to soon bring forward a resolution to replace a retiring nurse position at the county jail with a transitional care coordinator.

A transitional care coordinator would help inmates exiting the jail set up any agencies providing services they need, such as transitional housing, substance abuse programs, mental health appointments, job training or any number of services, to help them find their way in life, Gould said.

New York requires such a position, but few counties currently have one. In addition to providing needed care, Gould said adding the position would protect Cayuga County from any liability, pointing to a case where Essex County was sued after an inmate was murdered shortly after leaving jail without the help of a coordinator.

The position would not cost the county anything, Gould said, as it would be replacing the current cost of the nurse position. In the long run, it would also ultimately save money by reducing recidivism.

Cayuga County Coroner Dr. Adam Duckett, said transitional care and helping inmates get the medicine and help they need can be the difference between succeeding in re-establishing themselves or falling "flat on their face."

"If they don't understand what they have to do once they leave, they end up back in jail," Duckett said.

Legislator Joe DeForest, D-Venice, asked Duckett what happens if an inmate becomes a repeat offender who ends up in jail again and again, costing the county each time exit services are provided.

While the county would always be required to provide those services regardless, Duckett said the county would still save money in the long run by reducing recidivism and helping even, say, 25 percent of inmates get the help they need.

Connecting inmates with services and the providing agencies would also have the added benefit of alleviating workloads on other county departments. Director of Community Services Ray Bizzari said, for example, helping inmates secure housing would eliminate the workload of his department needing to find emergency housing when ex-inmates are unable to do so on their own.

More importantly than saving money, Gould said, is that it would be the right thing to do.

Many of the inmates are good people who made a mistake, sometimes perhaps because they didn't know where to find the very services a coordinator would help them find, he said. While some might have the support of families or friends once they get out, others are often completely directionless in life.

"There's some out there that just don't know where their life is headed. For us to be able to help those people, that's what we should do, to help other human beings when they need it most. I feel when someone gets out of jail that's one time in their life when they need the most help they can get. If we can help them, that's what I'm here for and I'll do it as long as I'm sheriff," Gould said.

Legislator Keith Batman, D-Springport, asked if the amount of inmate releases and the need to develop exit plans for all of them could become overwhelming for a single coordinator, following up on Legislator Chris Petrus,' R-Brutus, comments about one day forming a release task force.

However, Duckett said the process would be streamlined once any hired coordinator becomes adequately familiar with all the area's agencies and could develop a simple form template to speed the process up.

Ultimately, no motion was brought before the committee as Gould said he would further develop any financial or other considerations for a full resolution. Gould said he would be prepared to have a resolution for the Legislature's Ways and Means Committee later this month.

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Staff writer Ryan Franklin can be reached at (315) 282-2252 or ryan.franklin@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @RyanNYFranklin