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Probation hiring could help cut county inmate numbers

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CANTON — The hiring of a St. Lawrence County probation officer could help address a backlog of presentence investigations, which could in turn reduce the number of inmates at the county jail.

County legislators on Monday gave Probation Director Edward C. Gauthier preliminary approval to hire a probation officer to fill a vacancy created by a retirement. The officer who left the job has been on sick leave for an extended period and the caseload was covered by another officer who now has 85 cases.

“We’re burning people out. Everybody’s at the red line,” Mr. Gauthier said. “I think this will help.”

As a result of prior cuts in the department, the turnaround time for presentence investigations has gone from four to six weeks to eight to 10 weeks, which has added to the backlog in the court system.

“The domino effect is, people are sitting in jail,” Mr. Gauthier said.

Probation intends to use the new hire to assist with the caseload of a senior officer who will then focus on presentence investigations so that the wait for sentencing dates is shortened. That could reduce the time offenders are held at the jail while awaiting sentencing ,but Mr. Gauthier made no promises because of other factors.

The jail has been operating at 80 to 90 percent capacity, but inmate numbers have recently picked up for reasons that are difficult to pinpoint.

The jail population ebbs and flows based on daily court decisions, crimes committed, and the classification of inmates that are imprisoned.

As of midnight Tuesday, the jail had 194 inmates, administrator Daniel L. Dominie said.

The facility at 17 Commerce Lane opened in 2009 with a capacity of 164 inmates.

The state Commission of Correction approved double-bunking when necessary in 2010, which allows for a maximum of 186 inmates.

The jail was built because overcrowding at the old lockup on Judson Street forced the county to house inmates at facilities in other counties at costs that sometimes drove jail spending past its budget by more than $1 million annually.

On Tuesday, the county was boarding out 23 male inmates and was on the verge of sending a half dozen female inmates to other facilities, Mr. Dominie said.

The jail was built so that additional cell pods can be added.

“This facility was designed for rapid expansion as necessary,” Mr. Dominie said.

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