Sheriff Helms responds to report on Cortland County Jail

Photo: Cortland County Sheriff's Office

CORTLAND, N.Y. - Cortland County Sheriff Mark Helms says that a recent report on the need for a new county jail contains a number of shortcomings and unfairly implies that county lawmakers were given misleading information by top members of the sheriff's department.

In a letter addressed to "The People of Cortland County" that was issued Wednesday afternoon, Helms refutes a number of talking points that were outlined in a one-page memo issued last week by county legislator Joseph Steinhoff, whose report was skeptical of the need for a new public safety complex.

"Mr. Steinhoff's reporting is short and implies the legislature was misinformed," Helms wrote in the letter.

Steinhoff's report came out of a meeting held in Albany between county and state officials to discuss the county's options for addressing its overcrowded jail. He reported that despite what legislators have been told, the county is not in any danger of losing its jail variances and the New York State Board of Corrections is advising lawmakers to “move cautiously” with its plans for a new facility.

Helms, who attended the same meeting, offered counterarguments for each of Steinhoff's bullet-points, asserting that the sheriff's office never told legislators they were in danger of losing variances.

“I have said that the [State Commission of Corrections] can or could revoke our variance and I have always said, ‘that could happen within a few days or it could be 10 years,’  that depends on them (SCOC). I stand by this statement still today.”

Helms also pointed out that the legislature already intended to move forward with phase two of the jail design project before he was elected sheriff in November 2015.

The state commission has repeatedly granted variances to Cortland County to allow for more inmates in the jail than is normally allowed.

The price tag for constructing a new public safety facility at an already-secured property on Route 13 in Cortlandville is estimated at $48 million. Initial plans call for 148 jail beds.

The Cortland County Jail on Greenbush Street was built in 1990 to house 50 inmates but is able to hold an additional 43 inmates by obtaining variances from the New York State Department of Corrections.

Legislators serving on the Public Safety Facility Needs and Assessment Committee plan to revisit the controversy surrounding the jail project at its June 14 meeting.