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tc_jailThe County’s Jail Alternatives Task Force invited public comments Monday on additional local alternatives-to-incarceration that the County might employ to reduce the population of the Tompkins County Jail.

The public input requested is part of an in-depth review, as the Task Force examines potential ways to further build upon the existing strong foundation of Alternatives-to-Incarceration in Tompkins County to safely and prudently reduce the jail population.

More than 30 people attended the two-hour-long input session, about half providing comments.

Among suggestions received, several speakers praised and urged that additional funding be provided to the organization Opportunities, Alternatives, and Resources (OAR) to increase the bail fund, increase staff, and enable support for potential new services for the formerly incarcerated.

Many said there must be continued focus on and coordination of mental health and recovery services—including having the ability to place those in need in a hospital facility, rather than the jail; to initiate a mental health court (similar to current drug courts); and to support Circle of Recovery programs such as that about to begin that will reach inmates, beginning in the jail, and continue to mentor and support, once they’re released.  Mentorship programs were stressed several times—forging those one-on-one relationships that offer support and model success.  Speakers also said meaningful job training must be provided for good quality jobs, such as in construction, including reaching out to employers to highlight those who have been involved in the criminal justice system as good prospective employees.

Effective alternatives programs, it was stressed, enable parents to stay in the home and avoid disrupting families, and it was urged that those in recovery programs be required to stay in the program until they’re “clean,” to minimize impact on families.  And it was urged that, as an essential element of developing additional alternatives, that those incarcerated must be actively involved in the process—asked what they need when they get out.  The Task Force also was urged to investigate innovative alternatives-to-incarceration employed in other countries, which might be adapted here.

It was urged that the County invest money in alternatives programs to address the root causes of why people are in jail, to make a meaningful impact on the jail population.  Task Force leadership expressed their appreciation for the many ideas advanced.  The group will consider, and further explore, the suggestions received, as it continues its work over the next several months.

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