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Watertown may pay for some county jail overcrowding costs

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WATERTOWN — The city could end up paying the costs of sending some Jefferson County inmates off to other jails if city prearraignment detainees cause more overcrowding at the Metro-Jefferson Public Safety Building.

The city may be charged $600 to $800 for shuttling jail inmates round-trip with a two-person transport team if the trips occur because city suspects are staying in the county lockup, City Attorney Robert J. Slye said.

The sheriff’s department and county officials also propose that the city pay $149.53 daily for city detainees kept in the PSB’s holding cells. The city has been paying a half-day per diem charge.

The proposed changes result from new guidelines by the state Commission of Correction. The commission directed the sheriff’s department no longer to house prearraignment suspects because it was in contradiction to state law. The city detainees now are being held in a pair of city lockup cells on the first floor of City Hall, near City Court.

The guidelines state that detainees must be placed in the jail’s general population after 12 hours, or after four hours if more than one suspect has been placed in a single holding cell, Mr. Slye said.

In recent weeks, he has discussed the changes with County Attorney David J. Paulsen. Mr. Slye raised the issue during Monday night’s Watertown City Council meeting.

Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham was alarmed to hear about the proposed charges. He instructed Mr. Slye to hold off on the agreement with the county. But Councilman Joseph M. Butler Jr. said “the ultimate goal” is to get city police officers back on the street and not keeping watch over detainees in city lockup.

Meanwhile, the county Board of Legislators approved the fee structure during its meeting Tuesday night.

It remains to be seen, however, whether the city will be liable to the county for the cost of detainees.

City and county officials hope that speedier arraignments by judges — within four hours for detainees held together and within 12 hours for detainees held individually — will alleviate the potential for overcrowding.

The city and county are waiting for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to sign legislation that will allow prearraignment city suspects once again to stay in the county holding cells. In recent weeks, both the state Assembly and Senate approved legislation pertaining to the prearraignment suspects.

Ever since the PSB’s 1992 construction, suspects arrested by city police were held there to await arraignment.

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