Solving a Problem: Saving Lives & Tax Dollars

Dutchess County is dramatically reshaping our criminal justice and mental health systems.

Despite the misinformation and annoying automated phone calls, I recognize addressing any aspect of law enforcement and public safety is filled with emotion, passion and complex data. Yet, our comprehensive “Restorative Justice System” approach is unique to our county and will be an effective model for counties throughout New York and America. We will improve public safety; protect the rights of victims; invest in youth empowerment and crime prevention; intervene before a crime is committed, and help restore the individual.

Our plan diverts those with mental illness and/or battling addiction from jail and into proper care; and help transition the individual from institutional care or jail back into the community with the tools and support for a healthy, productive, crime-free life.

Over the last 4 years years we have analyzed the entire process and options available to us. Through a sophisticated system of nationally recognized alternatives to incarceration, such as our Women’s Reporting Center, and strong probation programs, we have reduced our incarceration rate to 13% of those in the system — below all counties like ours throughout New York.

We are making systemic changes in the courts with Saturday arraignment, public defense at 1st arraignment, and a program that contractually reduces charges for good behavior.

Our HELPLINE supports a 24/7 mobile mental health team that has aided thousands of individuals since inception. Our Crisis Intervention Training for police, first responders and corrections officers enables them to de-escalate incidents. And, later this year, we open the doors to a multi-disciplinary 24/7 Stabilization Center.

Our Restorative Justice System can be reality, but the inefficient county jail hinders our progress. Since 1995, we debated how to address the state mandate for adequate jail capacity. With an average inmate population of 420, our jail has capacity for only 257. We have spent too many of your tax dollars on the callous practice of housing inmates in other counties, over $8 million in 2014 alone. It’s time to end housing out and reliance on a jail that is too old, too expensive and too inhumane.

With our Justice & Transition Center, we can complete a comprehensive system of justice and finally confront the inequities and failures in our system.

Our proposal demolishes the outdated and expensive 1984 structure. We cannot merely build a small addition to it. That would have us maintain the most costly and staff-intensive structure within our jail. A new modern facility would replace the overly expensive 1984 portion while maintaining the 1995 portion and adding capacity. Even with up to $192 million in new debt and corresponding debt payments, we would realize $5.3 million in annual cost savings.

Even the operating budget for a new facility would be less than what we pay today!

I recognize we’re asking a lot. The time has come though to solve this problem and show America how this system can work, demonstrating how best to treat those fighting addiction or with mental illness; respecting victims of crime and assisting those who have broken the law try to break the cycle of criminal behavior — all while improving public safety.

I assure you, what we are doing will make a difference and will save valuable resources: your tax dollars and many lives.

Please join me in supporting our efforts and let your county legislator know — we must solve this problem and complete the Dutchess County Restorative Justice System.