When Tobias Shelley, the new Sheriff of Onondaga County, N.Y., (which includes Syracuse) took office, he was told that the local Jamesville Correctional Facility would be closed, Central Currents and New York Focus report. Shelley worried that the closure would exacerbate problems at the other local jail, the Justice Center, which was notorious for its problems. Jamesville was a relief valve, and closing it would strip the sheriff’s office of a mechanism to reduce population pressures at the notorious main jail. The plan set off a chaotic political skirmish in Onondaga County; officials and advocates picked sides, taking stances that resisted ideological expectations. Most Republicans want to raze the Jamesville facility as quickly as possible, arguing that it would save the county millions. Democrats like Shelley, as well as some formerly incarcerated activists, charge that a hasty closure will hamper efforts to improve jail conditions.
Stuck in the middle are the more than 500 people who the county incarcerates on any given day, who have for years suffered through the sheriff’s department’s dysfunction. The closure is "a dumb idea. … It’s not well-thought-out,” said Chris Ryan, the county legislature’s Democratic minority leader. He said the legislature didn’t hear about the closure plan until it was announced to the public. Two months later, it was passed: The Republican-controlled body approved the plan by a single vote in February, then temporarily paused it this spring. Closure skeptics worry that an increase in jail populations could push the Justice Center, already one of the most crowded jails in the state, past its limit. The closure announcement came just two months after news that the microchip manufacturer Micron would undertake one of the largest industrial projects in state history in Onondaga County.