The Erie County Holding Center and the Erie County Correctional Facility are among the worst local jails in the state, according to a report issued Wednesday by the state Commission of Correction.
The findings are based on years of review, including on-site inspections, interviews and investigations, the commission said.
"The Commission now issues this report on the five local jails that are deemed the 'worst offenders' for being in violation of state law," the commission said in its report. "These facilities pose an ongoing risk to the health and safety of staff and inmates and, in instances, impose cruel and inhumane treatment of inmates in violation of their Constitutional rights."
A spokesman for the Erie County Sheriff's Office, which runs the two facilities, took issue with the report's methodology, how it was released and said the report served to create drama rather than solve problems.
The commission's report cites results of three special investigations – of inmate escapes in 2010 and 2015, and an inmate-on-inmate assault in 2016. The report also cites four investigations of inmate deaths as well as "facility evaluations" in 2016 and 2017.
The investigations cited by the commission include their review of the death of Richard A. Metcalf Jr., who died in 2012 after deputies at the holding center pulled a pillow case over his head and knotted a spit mask around his neck. It also includes the investigation into the 2016 death of India Cummings, who was not in custody when she died but had been in the holding center. That investigation is ongoing.
In addition to Erie County's jails, the other facilities listed in the report entitled, "The Worst Offenders: The Most Problematic Local Correctional Facilities of New York State," were:
- Rikers Island
- Greene County Jail
- Dutchess County Jail
- Onondaga County Justice Center and Penitentiary
As of Dec. 30, 2017, the holding center in downtown Buffalo housed 347 inmates, while the correctional facility in Alden housed 592 inmates.
The 2016 evaluation by the commission resulted in 26 "significant findings" at the county-run facilities, including problems with the inmate grievance process, visitation policies and sanitation at the facility. Last year's evaluation resulted in eight "significant findings." Those included improperly housing minimum security female inmates with maximum security inmates at the holding center, destroying inmate property without justification or required documentation and only allowing inmates access to laundry services once a week, not twice as required.
Sheriff's Office officials reported two attempted escapes from the holding center and one "erroneous release" of an inmate from the holding center between Jan. 1, 2016, and Dec. 26, 2017, according to data in the commission's report.
Aside from the facilities on Rikers Island, which make up New York City's comparatively massive jail system, there were more inmate-on-inmate assaults, inmate-on-jail-personnel assaults, group or gang assaults, hospital admissions of inmates, and inmates with self-inflicted injuries reported at the Erie County Holding Center than at any of the other facilities in Onondaga, Dutchess or Greene counties, according to data in the report.
The holding center reported 423 inmates were admitted to a hospital over the roughly two-year period. The next highest facility was Dutchess County, which had 100.
Erie County didn't lead the way in all categories.
The Onondaga County Justice Center reported two firearm discharges, the only facility to do so among those included in the report, according to the data. The Dutchess County Jail reported a fire and the Onondaga County Penitentiary reported an evacuation and one death among jail personnel, also the only facilities to do so.
Scott Zylka, a spokesman for the Erie County Sheriff's Office, said the agency did not receive a copy of the report from the commission, but instead learned of its release through media reports and relied on those reports to obtain a copy.
Unlike with typical reports from the Commission of Correction, the Sheriff's Office was not provided with an opportunity to make comments or offer rebuttals prior to the release of the report, Zylka said.
"It splashes of cherry-picked incidences and I think even the title is there for splash and drama," Zylka said.
He said the report ignores positive events, like the county Jail Management Division's accreditation last September and health and education programs offered to jail inmates.
The commission, which oversees 74 facilities across the state, said it will continue to work with the sheriff's office, though further "enforcement actions" will be put in place when warranted.
"Managerial shortcomings of the Erie County Sheriff's Office have contributed to numerous serious incidents at the Erie County Holding Center and Erie County Correctional Facility, including inmate escapes, assaults and deaths," the commission wrote.