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For some inmates, the Erie County Correctional Facility in Alden may be starting to feel more like a house than a jail.

A two-story brick building on the facility's grounds has been converted into a minimum-security transitional housing unit, Superintendent Frederick Netzel explained.

Certain non-violent inmates, who don't pose a security risk, are transferred to the house during the last week or two of their sentence, Netzel said.

The facility is designed to house 36 inmates and to help them make the transition back into the community, Netzel said.

The inmates are responsible for maintaining the facility, doing their own laundry and similar activities, Netzel said.

"It's a more homey atmosphere and prepares them for getting back out on the street," Netzel said.

The inmates share the house, about a quarter of a mile from the main jail, with two guards. It is surrounded by a fence with razor-wire and is monitored by a guard assigned to patrol the grounds, Netzel said.

In addition to the benefits for the inmates, the unit is considered a profit-making venture for the county, according to County Executive Gorski.

About two-thirds of the 402 cells in the prison now are filled with inmates from Erie County, while the others are occupied by out-of-county prisoners. Other counties pay $90 a day for each of their prisoners housed at in the facility. By freeing up the 36 cells, Erie County stands to make an extra $1.18 million a year in rental fees, Netzel said.

The county spent about $165,000 renovating the vacant house, which had been used by the Erie County Home and Infirmary but had been vacant for many years, Netzel said.

The minimum-security house is the first of its kind in Western New York, Netzel said. It has been operating for the past month, but an official ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Tuesday.

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