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Despite pushback, McMahon says Jamesville Correctional merger still on

mcmahon listening in public hearing.JPG
Ellen Abbott
Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon, right, listens to concerns presented at a public hearing regarding the merger between the Jamesville Correctional Facility and the downtown Justice Center on Feb. 22.

Two people spoke up about Onondaga County’s plan to fold the Jamesville Correctional Facility into the downtown Justice Center at a public hearing Wednesday. The hearing is required for any local law passed by the County Legislature.

The legally required public hearing was held in County Executive Ryan McMahon’s executive conference room regarding the already passed legislation that will lead to the merger of the two facilities. Arguments presented by two people added nothing new to the debate. Community organizer Andy Mager mirrored an argument that has come from opponents from the start that the move happened too quickly.

"This feels completely rushed to me," Mager said. "It’s a major, major change, carried out in a short period of time, without much opportunity for this kind of public input, thinking or discussion."

Onondaga County legislator Mary Kuhn, who opposes the merger, also asked for a deeper look into the change.

"I would like a more robust evaluation for both of those facilities, to adjust the issues of education, medical care and mental health care for both populations, which are very different populations," Kuhn said.

Timing also dominated the talking points for Onondaga County. Sheriff Department Spokesman Thomas Newton represented Sheriff Toby Shelley, who is supposed to implement the merger.

"You hear about it before you take office and then it’s thrown on you and you’ve been fighting it one step at a time, and it keeps going and going and going to the point where we’re having a public hearing after a vote with two speakers and an empty room," Newton said. "I mean what are we doing here?"

Newton said at this point, Shelley has made it clear he will not start moving incarcerated individuals from Jamesville to the downtown facility, until a feasibility study is conducted by the state Commission on Corrections. Lawmakers approved an April 1 deadline for the move and McMahon said it is time to get going.

"We’ll reach out to the sheriff this week to see kind of where he is," McMahon said. "The legislature set forward some goals, as elected officials you don’t get to ignore the legislative branch of government. So we’ll have those conversations and start moving forward."

McMahon reiterated reasons for the move including staffing shortages in the corrections department, fewer inmates because of recent state legislation and a potential lawsuit due to delays in getting some inmates to in-person arraignments. McMahon said he believes most people support this move, calling it an "inside baseball" issue.

"We heard from some employees, we heard from spouses," McMahon said. "We’ve had some direct communication from Sheriff Shelley, we’ve heard from some legislators. But for the general public at large, this is not one of their top burning issues over the course of their dinner table."

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.