Erie County Legislature
92 Franklin St, 4th Floor
Buffalo, NY 14202
Re: Needs Assessment for Alternatives to a New Jail
Dear Honorable Members:
Thank you for amending a provision to spend $2.5 million on a feasibility study for and acquisition of land for a new jail, to include study of whether Erie County actually needs new jail, and to withhold $1.75 million of the $2.5 million until the study is complete. It is a significant step toward better public policy.
We are gratified that you mandated community involvement in the needs assessment, and write to strongly recommend that (1) the community participate in the choice of requests for proposals (RFP) for the needs assessment, and (2) that you keep the needs assessment and feasibility study separate.
THE COMMUNITY MUST BE INVOLVED RFPS FOR THE NEEDS ASSESSMENT
We understand that the department that is the “beneficiary” of the study writes the request for proposals, since RFPs typically reflect the strategy and objectives of the service requested and provide insight upon which suppliers will be able to offer a matching perspective. As is implicit from your amendment to the spending provision, the beneficiary of the needs assessment is the community. It was the community that came together to advocate for a needs assessment. If left to the Sheriff’s Office the Legislature would have approved spending $2.5 million for a feasibility study and land acquisition, and the County would be well on the road to spending another $200 million to build a new jail. As the beneficiary of the needs assessment, the community must have a hand in writing the RFP.
The community’s participation must continue through the scoring process, when each proposal submitted in response to the RFP is evaluated on the potential suppliers’ cost, the statement of methods for the study, track record doing somewhat similar studies, ect. The scoring committee then recommends which supplier should be awarded the contract.
If the scoring committee consists solely of representatives of the ECSO, and the County Executive, plus maybe public works the results would reflect their objective: to minimize the need for alternatives to a jail and put us on the road to construction of a new jail. Thus, we implore you to use your influence to include in the RFP the Corrections Specialists Advisory Board.
THE NEEDS ASSESSMENT AND FEASIBILITY STUDY MUST BE KEPT SEPARATE
For similar reasons we implore you to keep separate the needs assessment and feasibility study. Each has a distinct purpose. You answered the community’s plea to consider alternatives to a new jail with your amendment to the $2.5 million spending provision. In contrast, the purpose of a feasibility study is to lay the foundation for a new jail. The feasibility study is grounded on the assumption that the only way to solve the problems with our jails is to build a new one, while the needs assessment will view the myriad of problems at our jails through a wider lens. The latter should identify gaps between current conditions and goals, such as community safety and fairness. Thus, it should investigate the social policies that directly impact our community but are underfunded, under resourced, or just absent.
A study under the sole control of the Sheriff’s Office would result in a recommendation for a new jail, which would be plagued with the same problems that have persisted for decades and continue today. A new building will not address the root causes of why people enter the jails, nor the current culture in the jails. We already know that many people who are in the holding center need mental and behavioral health support. A separate needs assessment will allow the county to get clearer on the needs of community members and steps the county can take to mitigate both entry into jails and recidivism.
Black Love Resists in the Rust
Jails Justice Network
National Lawyers Guild - Buffalo chapter
Partnership for the Public Good
Prisoners are People Too, Inc.
Free the People WNY
Pushing Latinos Forward
Safe Home Re-entry, Inc.
Showing Up for Racial Justice
WNY Peace Center