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Sheriff Maciol says it’s not a solution, but ‘it’s doing its job’

Sean I. Mills
Staff writer
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Posted 9/6/22

The jail on Judd Road in Whitestown is one of five county jails across the state that will “hold” 16- and 17-year-olds charged with serious offenses.

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Sheriff Maciol says it’s not a solution, but ‘it’s doing its job’

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WHITESTOWN — To help with the growing concern over a lack of juvenile detention housing for older teenagers across the state, Oneida County Sheriff Robert M. Maciol said the county jail is being used as a temporary holding facility.

The jail on Judd Road in Whitestown is one of five county jails across the state that will “hold” 16- and 17-year-olds charged with serious offenses, Maciol said, until room can be found in an actual juvenile detention center. These older teens are now considered juveniles following the Raise the Age law in 2018.

“The state of New York is in desperate need of secure bed space for adolescent offenders,” Maciol stated.

“These are not kids in for shoplifting or spray painting.”

State problem

According to a report from Joe Mahoney with CNHI in Albany, county leaders across the state have begun to speak out about the lack of room in New York’s juvenile facilities. Martha Sauerbrey, president of the New York Association of Counties; Luci Welch, president of the state Council of Probation Administrators; and Marc Molinaro, president of the County Executives Association, wrote a letter to Gov. Kathy Hochul last month, noting that, “The lack of specialized secure detention beds across the state is putting our communities, affected youth, and the public at risk.”

The officials cited research by county probation directors indicating that no secure juvenile detention beds were available anywhere in the state following “numerous instances of serious crimes, many conducted with guns.”

In response to the letter, Sheila Poole, commissioner of the state Office of Children and Family Services, said the detention of youths has long been a county responsibility, but her agency seeks to assist in the placement of those offenders.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created significant staffing shortages across the entire human services sector and detention centers were not spared the impact,” Poole wrote in an Aug. 18 letter. The pandemic also delayed some construction projects that would have added more facility space.

Poole also noted the seriousness of charges lodged against detained youths has resulted in a doubling of the average length of stay in detention. That, along with delays in court proceedings, has exacerbated the “capacity challenges,” Poole said.

Local fix

Sheriff Maciol said the overall response from the state has been “frustrating.”

“It’s frustrating for law enforcement because New York tells us there’s not a problem with this,” Maciol stated.

After a juvenile has been charged with a crime and appeared in Oneida County, Maciol said his department then begins the process of looking throughout the state for bed space to house the teen because “we have none in the Mohawk Valley” and these facilities give priority to their own local adolescent offenders.

“It would have to be a secure detention facility,” Maciol explained. “There are no other options for them.”

If no bed can be found, Maciol said this will lead to an intent of justice hearing, during which a judge will hear evidence in order to justify putting the teen into Maciol’s custody. A special section of the county jail has been marked off for the teens, he said.

“There are a whole set of rules governing what they can or can’t do” in the temporary housing, Maciol said. They need to provide mental health counseling and other medical options; they need to be kept separate from adult offenders and there needs to be staff on duty 24/7 specifically for the teens, among other requirements.

“This way, they’re not out on the street,” Maciol noted.

Sending an adolescent offender to the county jail also requires a “triple level” of approval. Along with the intent of justice hearing, Maciol’s office must also tell the New York State Commission of Corrections and the New York State Office of Family and Children Services about the teen.

“It’s doing its job,” but it is only a temporary fix to the overall problem, the sheriff said.

Though there are no teens currently in the facility, Maciol said they have had as many as three at one time. The program has been operating at the jail for several months now.

If the youth is from Oneida County, Maciol said they charge the local Office of Family and Children Services for the housing. If the youth is from another county, Maciol said they charge that county $1,600 per day to house the teen.

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