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Jail-sharing bill signed into law

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WATERTOWN — Legislation to restore a 20-year arrangement between the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department and city police over how prearraignment suspects are housed was signed into law Thursday.

“It isn’t going to mean anything immediately, but we’ll obviously have to talk to the Sheriff’s Department and see how we can get turned back around to the way we were doing things for the last two decades,” Watertown Police Chief Charles P. “Chip” Donoghue said.

In March, Jefferson County Sheriff John P. Burns told then-Watertown Police Chief Gary C. Comins that the county lockup at the Metro-Jefferson Public Safety Building no longer would be able to hold suspects who had been arrested but not yet arraigned before a judge.

City police have been housing such individuals in a holding area in the jail since the PSB’s 1992 construction.

But after the state Commission of Correction discovered the arrangement while visiting the jail on another matter, it directed the sheriff to stop holding the suspects.

Since late April, the city has used two holding cells on the City Hall’s first floor, where City Court is located, to keep detainees before they are arraigned.

Companion bills by state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, and Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, were introduced to the state Legislature in May.

The bills allow a “special holding arrangement,” which authorizes prearraignment city suspects to be held at the PSB.

Mrs. Ritchie said the arrangement will help both the city and the county save money.

“The long-standing and common sense practice of sharing jail facilities saved money for taxpayers across Jefferson County, until the practice was stopped earlier this year,” Mrs. Ritchie said in a press release. “Albany should support local governments in finding innovative ways to share services and cut costs, and so I’m pleased that the governor has signed my bill into law.”

The new law will allow Jefferson County to negotiate a new jail-sharing arrangement with the city and any other local law enforcement agencies in the county, according to Sen. Ritchie’s office.

“We have been keeping track of that law, the status of that bill. So it was good news to hear that the governor had signed it,” Chief Donoghue said.

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