BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Sheriff John Garcia is “ecstatic” over Erie County’s plan to create a new jail that brings the holding center and correctional facility under one roof in the City of Buffalo.
He said the current downtown holding center built in the 1930s is antiquated, and combining it with the correctional facility currently located in Alden is a win for taxpayers, staff and inmates.
“Finally, we’re going to step into the 21st century from the 1930s,” Garcia said in an exclusive interview with News 4’s Tara Lynch. “Both jails are going to be shut down and we’re going to have one jail. No more duplication of services, no more waste on two jails, and cut back on some costs for staff. So, the taxpayers are going to recoup the cost of this facility in, I would say, about ten years.”
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said during Thursday’s State of the County address that $2.5 million is allocated for site acquisition, engineering and architectural work related to the modernized facility.
“A new holding center will require less staffing, protect the health and safety of both deputies and inmates, and lead to long term cost savings for Erie County taxpayers. It’s an investment worth making, and it’s time we get the ball rolling,” Poloncarz said.
Garcia estimated the price tag on the entire project could be in the range of $200 million. Poloncarz says the project will be supplemented with federal and state grants. The $2.5 million initial investment now heads to the legislature for approval. Ninth District Legislator John Gilmour says he expects it to pass.
“I think that both the minority caucus and the majority caucus are in favor of getting a new jail. Everybody knows the issues with the current holding center and we keep throwing Band-Aids on it,” Gilmour told News 4.
Garcia said plans for the new facility have not been finalized, but confirmed the county is looking at the Buffalo Grand Hotel on Church Street as a “possible site.” He says as far as he knows there are no other sites being considered at this time. He is hopeful the new jail could open with 1,500 beds in about five years.
“It absolutely has to be in the City of Buffalo, for many reasons,” Garcia said, listing proximity to infrastructure and the community chief among them. “If you think about it, how many counties in the state have two facilities? So, what were saying is this duplication of services — two correctional health (units), dental clinics, staff, kitchens — and they’re antiquated. So we’re putting band-aids on these two facilities. And it’s costing the taxpayers.”
Harry Stinson, who owns the Buffalo Grand Hotel — which suffered fire damage last winter in an incident Buffalo Fire officials believed was arson — says he has “absolutely no knowledge of such an offer or concept to sell it to the county.” He told News 4, via phone, that he was blindsided and only heard about the idea through this story. He says the hotel is not up for sale right now, but he can’t stop the county from taking the property through other means.
Garcia said a new, streamlined facility would require a significantly less staff. He said the jail could operate with a 20-23% reduction in staff, saving about $17 million per year. He said no current employee would lose their job — all the cuts would come through attrition, and they “should be able to meet those numbers no problem” given that they are currently struggling to find candidates.
Garcia said the new facility will include essentials that are currently lacking, like break rooms and central heating and air conditioning, and help them provide additional programming and medical services for inmates while also increasing safety for employees.
“I am very excited that, finally, we’re going to take a step from the 1930s into 2023,” Garcia said. “The way we housed people in the 1930s and ’40s is not the way we do it today. It’s about programming, it’s about correcting behavior, it’s about making sure that when people go back out into the community, they don’t commit crime. We don’t want return customers.”
The Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA), which represents deputies who work at the current facilities, said it will wait for more information on the project before commenting.