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Local jails wrestle with bail reform, declining populations over last decade

Bail reform outcomes unclear, but trend of shrinking jail populations is nothing new in the Finger Lakes

By Gabriel Pietrorazio

More than a month removed from implementing the statewide bail reform measures, local corrections officials suggest that releasing arrestees reduces their chances in accessing a host of rehabilitation and re-entry services while being held.

Traditional jails and cell spaces are replaced by ‘pods’, which serve as a way to create better outcomes inside county facilities. Photo by Gabriel Pietrorazio.

The Ontario County Sheriff Department which oversees the Ontario County Jail admits to seeing new challenges with offering programming services following the recent bail reform.

“So, the honest answer is we don’t know yet”

With 35 different programs on-hand, one of them was recently started as a six-week intensive therapy program where small groups between six and eight “dig deep into their past” for eight-hours every day.

Another one of the spaces used for inmate rehabilitation at the Ontario County Jail. Photo by Gabriel Pietrorazio.

“So, it’s like being in patient rehab. So, the downside of the whole bail reform is work is nobody’s being put into the correctional facility. So those people that have immediate needs, drug dependency, mental health issues. They get no immediate services,” Undersheriff David Frasca told

Some of the best programming rests with FLACRA that deal with treating drug addictions and mental health issues.

With FLACRA outpatient clinics located throughout the region in Geneva, Clifton Springs and Newark, their presence continually grows even inside the county jail through a contractor-based deal.

Recreational programming in the form of art therapy and even yoga are offered to inmates.

“That’s one of the programs with the inmates absolutely love,” Lieutenant Aaron Morell stated.

A look inside one of the facilities where inmates perform yoga as a tool within the rehabilitation process. Photo by Gabriel Pietrorazio.

High school equivalency, also known as HSE training is available at the Ontario County Jail where a few each year pass the program.

Corrections officials shared that a graduation even with Pomp and Circumstance commenced just a few weeks ago behind the concrete walls of the institution.

Learning has become an important part of the rehabilitation process within a classroom setting. Photo by Gabriel Pietrorazio.

Computer related and resume-building classes are popular. Volunteers on behalf of Guardian Glass also come in to teach soft skills classes about conducting themselves in job interviews and other life skills.

Even a fairly new partnership with the Ontario County Humane Society through the Jail and T.A.I.L.S. program complicates the task of teaching inmate handlers the necessary skills to raise and train a dog.

Their first trial run with the program recently ended after a six-week stint when the county jail welcomed Rosie, an eight-month-old Border Collie into the fold.

Undersheriff Frasca previously informed FL1 News that coordinating this new program was a tedious process, one that lasted for six to eight months as they dealt with the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

In preparation for housing Rosie in her new home, DCCS visited the county jail for a site inspection, requiring them to install a four-foot fence for supervised outdoor exercise.

Even the Commission of Correction Chairman Allen Riley visited Sheriff Henderson and his staff ahead of the program’s implementation.

“Chairman Riley, who oversees the commission, actually came personally from Albany and paid us a visit, not only to see what we wanted to do for the dog, jail, Jail and Tails program, but some other things. And when he left, he was very impressed,” Henderson shared.

Each evening Rosie would also sleep inside a crate beside the inmate while staying on-site 24/7, which presents problems because only sentenced inmates are able to participate in the successful Jail and T.A.I.L.S. program.

On the corrections side, officers like Lieutenant Aaron Morrell are not sure as to how the bail reform shall impact rehabilitation programming in the long-term.

“So, the honest answer is we don’t know yet. We just started this bail reform stuff. So, our numbers dropped. You know, in January, we’re down to I think this morning, we were in 99 inmates. So that’s less than the 160 that we had a month ago,” Lt. Morrell told

“When they you know, come in here, they will be sentenced to a certain amount of time. It will probably make our programming more effective will be able to find programs that would fit their needs better. We will know their exact out date. Currently. We don’t know what their out date is. They may go to court tonight and get released. And we didn’t have an opportunity to see him for re-entry or to schedule medical appointments or mental health appointments or transportation forum,” he continued.

Undersheriff Frasca argues that because those who are arrested and released are not able to access on-site services while during their short stay at the jail.

“They get no services because they’re not incarcerated. They’re released, and then they’re right back into the alcohol and drugs,” Frasca said.

“You know, when we had a drug addict that was setting on bail, they would immediately start to receive services in our facility because we provide those, they don’t get those services now, because they’re not in our facility, and most of them don’t seek those services voluntarily out in the public,” he added.

He also believes that the downside to this initiative is whether their release may cause self-imposed harm but also possibly upon others.

“Making sure they’re still there because one day they’re there and the next minute, they’re not”

Ann Marie Coniglio, the Ontario County Jail re-entry case manager points at a pile of re-entry case files, some of which come from the bail reform. Photo by Gabriel Pietrorazio.

As for re-entry services, Ann Marie Coniglio, the Ontario County Jail re-entry case manager handles overseeing those inmates who seek out services, but even preparing ahead for re-entry comes with its own set of challenges, especially under the new bail reform measures.

A daily task for Coniglio rests in “making sure they’re still there because one day they’re there the next minute, they’re not,” as she described.

Coniglio told that in-housing services before re-entry aids incarcerates, especially for court-ordered treatment programs.

Whether awaiting trial or after sentencing, partaking in treatment programs while being held in the county jail guarantees that treatment will be provided to those in need and lower costs for the Department of Social Services.

“What that does is gives them time to work on these issues here while they’re here, instead of waiting till they get out and save the county money,” she said.

With secured grant funding in-place, the aforementioned Child Protected Services program will remain at the county jail indefinitely in addition to anger management and mental health treatment options.

“The same with anger management, mental health team got the grant and I got it court ordered so that they would be able to take X advantage of having it here and get those programs done. So, it’s always a battle,” Coniglio continued.

Beyond providing in-house rehabilitation services, each wave of bail reform releases presents a mounting obstacle for Coniglio and other re-entry service providers to deal with.

“But it still was an eye opener for everybody because I think that they didn’t realize that there’s only so much available, and it wasn’t going to be so easy,” Coniglio shared.

The rural region of the Finger Lakes is shared territory, both in space and social resources.

“The biggest barrier, I would say that we encounter here is housing. It is very, very difficult to utilize the current motel situation. It has become such a deficit for our county and getting a shelter is a much-needed process,” Coniglio said.

Local agencies like Family Promise, Salvation Army and Catholic Charities assist Coniglio in finding temporary housing across the county and even beyond.

“Our economy is making things very difficult for people to survive. Agencies like the Family Promise have developed for families that are homeless and providing them with support,” she said.

As the county re-entry case manager, Coniglio sees that housing insecurity is a crucial cause for jail recidivism.

“I think that we have this revolving situation of individuals in and out of jail, and it’s because of the housing,” she stated.

Coniglio mentioned that the majority of Ontario County Jail inmates do not possess any form of personal identification, let alone a driver’s license.

However, Coniglio is able to obtain state identification, a Social Security card and even acquire a copy of their birth certificate through their commissary fund.

“So, they’re not able to drive so they’re trying to walk all over back and forth out here to SS and it’s just such a hard chip for a person to roll through,”

Consequently, with the increasing prevalence of homelessness among released incarcerates, these inadequate re-entry housing conditions at motels and shelters were intensified through the bail reform, as Coniglio claims.

“Well, it did at that time, and I’m going to tell you why we had everybody going out at the same time. So, there’s only so many resources available,” Coniglio stated.

Even reaching-out to as far as Monroe County that was releasing 200 inmates alone, Coniglio was concerned about releasing inmates under the new bail measures while not cooperating with other correctional facilities.

“Now I went as far as to contact Monroe County to find out how many people they were transitioning back into Ontario county that informed them that they were going to be homeless, because I was fearful. What about those people coming in? They didn’t even account for the other counties,” Coniglio stated.

But in the end, Coniglio believes that the situation has all worked out, but chaos and a sense of uncertainty lingered for a short period of time following January 1st.

Coniglio noted that some re-entry case managers were simply forced to guess about what cases that judges were going select for bail since she and her staff were unaware of how they were going to act.

“So, it all seemed to work out in the end, there were a few that had to be go through different agencies until they could get them together,” she said.

“They’re really mandated to re-entry”

When Coniglio assumed her role as the re-entry case manager in 2016, 260 inmates were on-site when she started offering re-entry services with the contract system.

“We had at 260 people when I started the program, they didn’t have any kind of re-entry like what I’m doing here. So, I was seeing every single person that goes out and by doing that, I had case management at one point of 75 people a year, yearly contracts that are constantly revolving, and we’re doing something cutting edge here that nobody else is doing. What we’re doing is I have them signed a contract before they leave. They’re really mandated to re-entry,” Coniglio explained.

The stipulated contract that inmates would optionally sign into ahead of being released allows them to contact her at any given time whenever they may encounter a barrier or cannot find services, even if they are no longer residing in New York state.

“I built the program from the ground up and I married a lot of programs that had evidence-based programs because those are the ones, we knew really did work,” Coniglio mentioned.

From 2016 to 2018, Coniglio has tracked a 94 percent success rate with the contract re-entry program after meeting with an estimated 180 inmates.

Her metrics for defining success determined that an individual was not recommitted to their or any other facility and ceased committing any future crimes.

Coniglio even has a personal phone where contract-bound ex-inmates are able to directly call her at any time.

She receives calls concerning the struggles and issues that a former incarcerate faces on a daily basis, but not all calls are dreary or gloomy for her.

On occasion, she will receive a phone call from someone that she worked with through the contract program who has ended-up succeeding, leaving a life of crime behind for a brighter future through her efforts.

“I think we’re setting us up for failure”

Ontario County Sheriff Kevin Henderson shared that it costs $36 million each year to run all six divisions of his office.

Even with an expansive countywide budget, Sheriff Henderson explained that funding for the jail MAT programs had been cut in half by the state legislature in Albany.

Despite this drastic setback, the county jail is still getting by offering such services, but it’s still difficult for correctional staff, especially when splitting-up treatment programs based on gender.

“We went forward with the funding that we have, and we’re making it work. But instead of offering our those that all are in within our facility, all that are struggling, I’m talking about our female population and our male populations. Now we have to do a component of female at a time, because you can’t, you can’t comingle male and females and then the male. Well, we’re not really doing our best because of the way we have to do that, but we’re making it happen,” Henderson stated.

While New York state jail populations have been on a historic decline over the last decade, Sheriff Henderson and other corrections officials have thought ahead to justify why correctional officer budgets should not be cut to reduce jail overhead operating costs.

“This started back in the beginning of the year when we knew it sounded like this was going to pass,” he said.

“There’s many perceptions out there that well, why do we need to continue to have the number of our correctional officers? If we’re down this number can we get rid of this number of correctional staff? We can’t because, again, the type of inmate we have in these facilities are very much struggling with mental health and substance abuse,” Henderson said.

Sheriff Henderson explained that their correctional officer force has been spread thin already with many officers collecting overtime as a result.

One task in particular that Sheriff Henderson strides to ensure safety is when they conduct a two-officer transport for medical appointments.

“You know, if we bring somebody to a medical appointment or to outside the walls of this facility, my stance is it’s a two-officer transport. We have to maintain that level of safety,” Henderson stated.

Another view from inside one of the many facilities operated by the Ontario County Sheriff’s Office. Photo by Gabriel Pietrorazio.

A more pressing matter for Sheriff Henderson in the foreseeable future rests in the lack of warrant deputies on-staff to handle the increasing caseload for fugitives that risk flight after being released from bail.

With 700 open warrants from 2019 at the county level and 2.5 warrant deputies on-staff to manage the retrieval of fugitives, Sheriff Henderson anticipates for that figure to double by the end of 2020.

“Sheriff, why do you need all these correctional deputies? If you’re down in population? We’re telling not only me but my fellow shares. We’re in lull right now. This is we’re in the trial period. I think we’re setting ourselves up for failure, we’re going to see an into an increase in people coming back,” Henderson concluded.

Inside a pod operated by the Ontario County Sheriff’s Office. Photo by Gabriel Pietrorazio.

Jail Populations in New York State 2009-2019

The annual counts reflect the daily counts averaged by the number of days reported for that year.

Data gathered by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services

Below figures for counties throughout the region represent a ‘census count’ or the total number of inmates for which the county is responsible. These inmates include those boarded Out- and In- House.

Cayuga County Jail

2009 – 181
2010 – 184
2011 – 192
2012 – 190
2013 – 191
2014 – 183
2015 – 163
2016 – 164
2017 – 156
2018 – 156
2019 – 145

Decade High – 192
Decade Low – 145
Decade Average – 173

Ontario County Jail

2009 – 211
2010 – 198
2011 – 196
2012 – 198
2013 – 217
2014 – 211
2015 – 212
2016 – 219
2017 – 179
2018 – 162
2019 – 139

Decade High – 219
Decade Low – 139
Decade Average – 195

Schuyler County Jail

2009 – 18
2010 – 21
2011 – 21
2012 – 22
2013 – 25
2014 – 18
2015 – 15
2016 – 28
2017 – 21
2018 – 17
2019 – 17

Decade High – 28
Decade Low – 17
Decade Average – 20

Seneca County Jail

2009 – 70
2010 – 82
2011 – 77
2012 – 77
2013 – 82
2014 – 81
2015 – 68
2016 – 74
2017 – 79
2018 – 76
2019 – 60

Decade High – 82
Decade Low – 60
Decade Average – 75

Tompkins County Jail

2009 – 80
2010 – 82
2011 – 86
2012 – 90
2013 – 91
2014 – 87
2015 – 92
2016 – 80
2017 – 76
2018 – 72
2019 – 61

Decade High – 92
Decade Low – 61
Decade Average – 82

Wayne County Jail

2009 – 113
2010 – 129
2011 – 132
2012 – 108
2013 – 109
2014 – 115
2015 – 121
2016 – 98
2017 – 89
2018 – 93
2019 – 69

Decade High – 132
Decade Low – 69
Decade Average – 107

Yates County Jail

2009 – 47
2010 – 48
2011 – 53
2012 – 49
2013 – 49
2014 – 47
2015 – 52
2016 – 46
2017 – 42
2018 – 42
2019 – 43

Decade High – 53
Decade Low – 42
Decade Average – 47

Regional Averages

This data reflects the averaged decade high, decade low, and decade average across each county jail: Cayuga, Ontario, Schuyler, Seneca, Tompkins, Wayne and Yates.

Decade High – 114
Decade Low – 76
Decade Average – 100