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Erie County OKs extension for keeping Buffalo’s pre-arraigned female detainees at Holding Center

Women who have been arrested by City of Buffalo police officers but not yet arraigned will continue to be detained at the Erie County Holding Center.

A six-month extension agreement was approved, 10-1, Thursday by the County Legislature, with Legislator Thomas A. Loughran, D-Amherst, voting against the extension over concerns that the county would be solely liable for any harm that might come to Buffalo’s pre-arraigned female detainees while they are housed in the county lockup.

“Intermunicipal cooperation is good, but it has to be mutual,” Loughran said.

Since 2003, the county has had an agreement with Buffalo to house the city’s pre-arraigned detainees. At the time, it included both male and female detainees who would be housed at Holding Center for a lump-sum payment of about $1 million annually. However, the payments did not cover the county’s expenses for providing those services, according to a 2007 audit conducted by then-County Comptroller Mark C. Poloncarz, now the county executive, who then recommended that steps be taken to address the funding discrepancy.

A year ago, the city resumed responsibility for housing its pre-arraigned male detainees, relieving the county of that duty. This past April, the city signed an amended agreement with the county to pay $163 a day for each female detainee at the Holding Center until the contract expired June 30. For the first quarter of 2013, the charge to the city amounted to about $250,000, according to the county Budget Office. The six-month extension of that contract approved Thursday by the Legislature covers July 1 to Dec. 31 and is expected to result in about $1 million in payments by the city to the county for the year, just for housing Buffalo’s pre-arraigned female detainees.

During midyear budget hearings by the Legislature this week, Thomas J. Diina, superintendent of the Jail Management Division for the Sheriff’s Office, told legislators that the county’s detaining of pre-arraigned women for the city continued to be a drain on county resources and, perhaps, partly responsible for driving up overtime costs within the division. Diina also speculated that unusually high on-duty injuries and summer vacations taken by county corrections officers could be responsible.

Meanwhile, County Attorney Michael A. Siragusa told legislators that the city may need morel time to complete new facilities for its pre-arraigned female detainees in the basement of the City Court building and, as a result, may require another six-month extension.

Loughran said he hopes that an indemnification clause protecting the county from liability for any injuries that may come to Buffalo detainees at the Holding Center will be included in future contract extensions. He noted that in 2011, the county was required to pay $7 million to Janette Morales to settle a personal-injury lawsuit that blamed the county for not properly training or supervising lifeguards at a city-owned pool in which Morales nearly drowned in 2009. At the time, the county had an agreement with the city to operate and maintain the city’s pools and parks

“That’s why I voted against this extension,” Loughran said. “I wanted to send a message that when they reconsider this in six months, that caveat will be in it, that they will hold us harmless.”