BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) - Erie County lawmakers took action when they learned revenue from inmates' phone calls were under the sole discretion of the sheriff.
Sheriff Tim Howard did nothing wrong in spending the money the way he did because there is no state regulation for this telephone fund. However, some steps are being taken locally to add more oversight to the nearly $1 million raided by the contract with Public Communication Services.
Erie County Legislator Tim Hogues said, "It was shocking that the sheriff's department had the ability to spend quite a bit of money without any approval, and so we looked to correct that."
Hogues and Chairwoman Betty Jean Grant proposed legislation mandating the sheriff put the money in county-controlled coffers, to be used by jail management only with approval from the County Legislature.
"That's a compromise, but i think it needs to go further," Grant said.
That proposal has been tabled, but the sheriff and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz have an agreement to transfer the money.
All of the money comes from inmates making phone calls, at the jail. In the last year, some expenditures, documented by the sheriff include:
- About $430,000, spent on 14 new vehicles
- More than $80,000 spent on new inmate mattresses
- And $8,000, spent on religious services
Both Hogues and Grant want more money - nearly half of that fund - put toward inmate rehabilitation.
Sheriff Howard was not available to comment. But all along, he's said there isn't enough money in the budget to maintain the jail the way he wants, which is why he was using the funds generated by inmate calls. Grant says no more, and if there's a problem with budgeting, take it up with the legislature.
"If he asks for more money [in his budget] and makes a case for it, I'm inclined to go along with it," Grant said.
Both legislators say about half a million dollars is still under the sheriff's control and has not been transferred to the county's control.
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