NY’s jail watchdog: Erie County lockups among state’s five worst

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – The New York State Commission of Correction released a report Wednesday naming the five worst local jails in the state, and Erie County’s two lockups are on that list.

Poor management by the Erie County Sheriff’s Office has contributed to several serious incidents at the Erie County Holding Center and the Alden Correctional facility, according to the report, entitled “The Most Problematic Local Correctional Facilities of New York State”.

The Commission’s 73-page report is critical of all 5 jails named, but a spokesman for Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard is accusing the NYSCOC of sensationalism. Spokesman Scott Zylka claimed the Sheriff was blindsided, “We learned of this from media outlets this morning.”

Also on the list, New York City’s Rikers Island, the Greene County Jail, Dutchess County Jail, the Onondaga Justice Center.

Commissioners found Erie County is second only to Rikers Island for inmate assaults on fellow inmates, including the attack on Carl Miller, 27, at the Alden facility that put him in a medically-induced coma for two weeks.

The NYSCOC also found deficiencies in the deaths of 4 inmates since 2012, including the asphyxiation death of Richard Metcalf, who had suffered severe injuries, and his death was ruled a homicide.

Despite multiple investigations including by State Police, a special prosecutor, and the Commission itself, no criminal charges were ever filed.

Michael Scinta is one of the attorneys representing Metcalf’s family in a wrongful death lawsuit against Erie County, saying the family still feels very strongly, criminal charges should have been brought.

“This was a homicide–it was ruled a homicide–and when you see the findings of the Department of Corrections, you can see that everything they did amounts to a crime, it is criminal activity.”

But Sheriff spokesman Zylka said the NYSCOC seemed to have a negative point of view, without regard to important improvements at the county facilities.

“One of their opening paragraphs is, we were understaffed–no fault of our own, we did not have the funding–and then they state in 2011-2012 we got extra funding. We started increasing staff, which we continue to do.”

A spokesperson for the Commission declined interviews for this report, but she did say they will work with the Sheriff’s Office to continue making improvements. Attorneys for Richard Metcalf’s family said their wrongful death lawsuit against the county should be ready for trial later this year.

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