It's been a long time coming and absolutely necessary, today's speakers said at a groundbreaking for the new $70 million, 184-bed Genesee County Jail off West Main Street Road, next to County Building #2.
"Believe it or not, discussions on the replacement of the current jail, the Genesee County Jail, date back over 50 years," Sheriff William Sheron said during the ceremony Thursday. "When I began my career with the Sheriff's Office in 1977, they had plans on the table to build the new jail. There are many reasons that didn't come to fruition, but with persistence by former Sheriff (Gary) Maha and myself, we finally got to today."
The current jail was built in 1902 with additions in 1985. And while it has met its purpose for more than 120 years, the current jail is no longer adequate to meet the county's needs nor meet the health and safety standards required by the State of New York.
"The lack of housing space, overcrowding, inmate classification limitations, the inability to house females, and the inability to meet the needs of the inmates, incarcerated individuals, are just some of the daily obstacles that our correction officers and leadership face. We must remember that the county jail is a vital component in providing for the safety and security of the residents of Genesee County," Sheron said.
"We are building a modern secure facility," the sheriff said. "It will allow for the ability to expand essential programs that will assist in preparing incarcerated individuals for their re-entry into society. This facility will also allow us to improve mental health, substance abuse programs, and medical services. It will also increase our holding cell capacity to assist other police agencies here in Genesee County. Equally important is that the facility will drastically improve the working conditions for the correction officers and the jail employees that operate this facility 24 hours a day, 365 days a year."
Shelley Stein, chairwoman of the Genesee County Legislature, credited the persistence and work of a number of people in getting the new jail to the groundbreaking stage, including Maha and Sheron, along with former County Manager Jay Gsell, the volunteer transition team, along with all the other county staff involved.
"This site will address the long-planned improvements in the county's responsibility to care for its inmates, provide for good working conditions for our corrections officers and to house our female incarcerated individuals in their home counties," Stein said.
County Manager Matt Landers, whose work on the jail includes the years he was assistant to Gsell, said the Legislature has pursued a methodical and conscientious path to plan and design a responsible and efficient jail that will meet the needs of the community for the next 100 years.
In the wake of bail reform and the pause in construction caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the county took the time to complete a second study on the capacity of a new jail and what was needed in a new facility, Landers said.
"The results were the same as the first, which gave us in the county renewed confidence that we were building the right-sized jail for this community," Landers said. "The fact is one of the responsibilities of county government is to maintain a safe and functional jail. In constructing this new facility, Genesee County is fulfilling its obligations."
Photos by Howard Owens
Sheriff William Sheron
Legislator Shelley Stein