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Advisers to Erie County’s jails cite Monroe County’s inmate programs

An advisory board tasked with recommending improvements for Erie County’s jails is looking to Monroe County for ways replicate successful general education diploma and job-training programs at the Holding Center in Buffalo and the Correctional Facility in Alden.

Two members of the Community Corrections Advisory Board who last month toured the Monroe County jail and correctional facility shared their findings Tuesday with the rest of the 12-member panel during the board’s regular meeting.

Board member William Schultz said that, on a weekly basis, Monroe County offers about 110 different types of program activities for its inmates aimed at preparing them for re-entry into society.

“They work very hard to keep individuals, rather than sitting on their bunks watching TV, to get involved in any one of the activities that are scheduled. We’re talking about individuals who are in the special needs unit. That makes up a third of the total population in the facility,” said Schultz, referring to inmates identified as having addiction and mental health issues.

Schultz said Monroe County, working with a variety of community partners, offers inmates a GED-training program as well as certificate-training programs in landscaping and greenhouse operations, food service, plumbing and carpentry.

“Upon release, they have that something to put on their resumes,” he said.

“When individuals get out of jail, whether it’s going through the one-stop (program) or some other community-based organization that is an employment service or support, they can help them get a job and earn a living. That is one of the largest factors in not getting involved with old cohorts and reoffending and ending right back in jail again,” he added.

Other board members noted what appears to be a dearth of similar programs at Erie County’s two jail, including the lack of a GED program for adult prisoners at the Correctional Facility.

Board member Barry Covert asked whether it was a matter of Monroe County spending more money.

“If they’re getting a lower recidivism rate because of this, it seems like money well spent in the long run, and if we can figure out why they can get all of this done and we can’t, and the budget seems to be an excuse, I’d really like to have an analysis to show me why it is there is such a disparity between what should be similar county facilities,” Covert said.

The Rev. Eugene Pierce, chairman of the Community Corrections Advisory Board, recommended the board review Monroe County’s programs and replicate them where possible.

Other board members suggested the two systems might not be immediately comparable because of how each is structured.

“I get the impression that Monroe County has more staff dedicated to programs,” said board member Joseph Cercone.

Board member Joseph Sacco said that by the board’s next meeting, he would obtain numbers to compare what the counties spend per inmate and for the overall operations.

Sacco and Cercone also noted that Erie County may already have some programs that are similar to those in Monroe County but are structured differently.