Sheriff seeks funding increase for crowded jail

PERKINS TWP. Erie County Sheriff Terry Lyons, still waiting for a promised $100,000 to relieve population pressures in h
Tom Jackson
May 24, 2010



Erie County Sheriff Terry Lyons, still waiting for a promised $100,000 to relieve population pressures in his overcrowded jail, has asked for a $1 million funding increase for his jail budget in 2008.

In a letter to commissioners and in an interview Friday, the sheriff said jail overcrowding and the premature release of jail inmates continues to be his biggest headache.

Earlier this year, the sheriff asked for $500,000 to cover the cost of housing Erie County inmates in jails in other counties. Erie County's commissioners trimmed the request to $100,000, then said the sheriff would have to wait to get the money until the commissioners could meet with Erie County common pleas judges to discuss budget matters and the county's early release policy.

The meeting has not occurred. Last week, when County Administrator Mike Bixler discussed the sheriff's jail request, Commissioner Bill Monaghan said the meeting must take place before the end of the summer. No meeting has been scheduled yet, County Clerk Carolyn Hauenstein said Friday.

Lyons said he's disappointed he hasn't received the $100,000.

"Summer is halfway over," Lyons said. "We hoped to have some things in place prior to our summer rush. That was the whole purpose of me reminding the board back in early May."

On Friday, the jail held 110 inmates. The official capacity is 106, Lyons said.

He said 13 inmates were booked into the jail during the past 24 hours; five were released prematurely because there was no room for them. The jail continues to release one out of 10 inmates early because there's no room for them, Lyons said.

Lyons' proposed 2008 jail budget, submitted in late June to comply with state law, asks for about $3.8 million next year, up from $2.8 million this year.

The request includes $500,000 to house inmates outside of Erie County. That would cover the cost of housing 22 inmates a day in other jails, paying other sheriffs who have extra jail space and are willing to sell it, Lyons said.

That would not stop the early release of inmates, "but it would significantly curtail that practice," he said.

The sheriff said he understands Erie County has a tight budget, but believes public safety has to be a priority.

Last fall, voters rejected a quarter-percent sales tax hike that would have eased many of Lyons' budget pressures. The proposed new tax would have expanded the jail, beefed up courthouse security and kept the county's drug task force alive.

The drug task force's last employee, Capt. Gregory Majoy, worked his last day at the sheriff's office on June 28, Lyons said. He used up some vacation time, but goes off the books at the sheriff's office as of Friday, the sheriff said.