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Sheriff calls need for jail guards acute

More guards are needed at Erie County's jails, or else county taxpayers will be forced to pay for inmates to be locked up elsewhere around the state, Sheriff Timothy B. Howard warned Monday.

Howard, along with former Sheriff Patrick M. Gallivan, held a news conference to accuse County Executive Joel A. Giambra of failing to provide adequate staffing at the Erie County Holding Center and Alden Correctional Facility.

"If he doesn't give us the people, then the state's going to step in and force the county to ship these inmates elsewhere," Howard said.

That could end up costing the county thousands of dollars a month, he said.

"Based upon [Monday's] jail population of 1,531 inmates, at best 150 inmates would be transferred to another facility at approximately $100 per day, per inmate, to the taxpayers," Howard said.

Howard and the problems at the Holding Center came under fire last week from Charles T. Fieramusca, Howard's Democratic challenger in this year's race for sheriff.

But on Monday, Howard and Gallivan fired back.

Overcrowding long has been a problem, made worse by the county's budget crisis, they said. Lack of staffing caused the state Commission of Correction in August to lower the number of inmates allowed at the two facilities to 1,550.

The commission is poised to lower the maximum capacity even more -- to 1,381 -- when it reviews the county's situation again today, Howard said.

Howard said the department is down 80 employees, but he has been working with county legislators and Giambra to restore at least 17 positions to help meet the commission's minimum staffing.

Giambra, meanwhile, recently told Howard he wanted a written plan to keep department overtime in check before he would agree to add more staff.

"I stand ready to work with the sheriff and the Legislature on this important issue," Giambra said Monday, "but I ask for help from both branches of government in providing reasonable assurance that we are not simply adding bodies or throwing money at the issue as a cure."

If adequate staffing isn't provided, Howard said he would consider taking the issue to court.

e-mail: jrey@buffnews.com

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