Sheriff: Jail leaks forced transfer of inmates

Julie Lewis | The Daily StarOtsego County Sheriff Richard Devlin Jr., right, explains that water leaks from plumbing fixtures in a pipe chase located in the A wing cell area of the Otsego County Jail in Middlefield. Devlin said rain also leaks through the roof in the cell area. At left is Lt. Daryl O’Connor.

Conditions at the Otsego County Jail had been a concern to the county long before a leaking roof and other structural deficiencies prompted the unplanned relocation of inmates last week, according to Otsego County Sheriff Richard Devlin.

Devlin said the Otsego County Board of Representatives was apprised of the deterioration of the jail in 2014.

The following year, the corrections union filed a grievance about the building’s conditions.

“We were going down a path we didn’t want to go down,” Devlin said.

The 40,300-square-foot jail was built in 1989 and can house up to 100 inmates, according to Devlin.

The New York State Commission of Corrections conducted a building assessment in 2015 and issued a report to the county the following year, Devlin said.

Details of the report are not publicly available, but the sheriff said state officials echoed the same concerns previously brought up by jail personnel. 

“As far as the county goes, they’re trying to help us,” Devlin said. “It’s not something that’s going to get better overnight.”

A $1.6 million renovation of one wing of the jail began in late summer, according to David Bliss, District 7 representative and chair of the county board. “The plan was to do one section at a time,” he said. “We didn’t want to shut down the whole thing at once.”

The first phase of the project required the temporary relocation of some inmates to facilities in neighboring counties before the rest were moved last week because of severe water damage, according to Bliss.

Heavy rains in the overnight hours of Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 caused significant leaks into the building, creating puddles on the floors and infiltrating the ductwork and air-handling system, Bliss said.

Thirty-three inmates were moved to facilities in Delaware and Albany counties, where they are expected to remain for several weeks — at the overall cost of $4,500 per day to the county — until repairs are completed.

“It’s a good opportunity to do the work now, while the building is empty,” he said. “It’s a little difficult to work on an occupied jail, for obvious reasons.”

The county’s first priority is to repair the roof and prevent further damage to the jail’s interior, Bliss said.

Officials from the county and the state corrections commission will conduct further evaluations of the building, including air quality testing, to determine the extent of the repairs needed in the coming weeks, Bliss said. Any repairs or changes to the building will require state approval.

Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at seames@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7213.

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