Jail Oversight Committee Could Add Further Supervision to Operations at the Justice Center

Sep 8, 2014

The Syracuse community could soon provide more oversight of the Onondaga County Justice Center under a local law introduced Monday to county lawmakers.  

From left to right, Onondaga County Legislator John Dougherty, Chairman Ryan McMahon, and Chief Custody Deputy Esteban Gonzalez (right) attend a hearing announcing the new jail oversight measures.
Credit Scott Willis / WAER News

Legislature Chair Ryan McMahon presented a draft of the measure at a public safety committee meeting, framing it as a way to increase communication between local organizations, and also act as another check and balance to avoid making costly mistakes…

McMahon said Monday that the community has been advocating for a measure like this one for three decades, and that it’s time to “bring a sense of confidence to the community,” while addressing any additional concerns different parties and law enforcement may have along the way.  

The United As One Coalition has been pressuring lawmakers for more than a year to create a mechanism to oversee jail operations in light of inmate deaths at the hands of deputies.  Most recently, Cheunice Patterson and Raul Pinet, Jr. died at the Onondaga County Justice Center. Barrie Gewanter with the New York Civil Liberties Union in Syracuse has been one of the most vocal advocates of an oversight committee: 

Gewanter said Monday that she feels that the legislation is strong, largely because in the committee will be able to take investigation results and then make recommendations on policies, procedures, and training at the jail using the facts.  She refers to the training provision as a key “quality improvement tool,” to make the jail better and safer for both inmates and jail staff. 

A demonstrator at the meeting discussing the proposed committee to oversee activities at the Onondaga County Justice Center
Credit Scott Willis / WAER News
While Sheriff Kevin Walsh has expressed opposition to additional oversight, others within the department say otherwise.  Esteban Gonzalez is Chief Custody Deputy with the Sheriff’s Office, and runs the jail  He  says oversight is good in any capacity – except if it duplicates other oversight or services already being done.  
 The public safety committee didn’t take any action on the measure.  Chairman McMahon wants lawmakers to have plenty of time to digest the 12-page document, ask questions, and hopefully vote in October.  If approved, the committee would have to be formed in 90 days.