Broome Sheriff appeals court ruling that demands visitation returns to jail

Sheriff Harder, citing COVID-19, says he is concerned about the health and safety of the inmates and staff
Published: Aug. 31, 2022 at 2:32 PM EDT
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DICKINSON (WBNG) -- Broome County Sheriff David Harder appealed the State Supreme Court’s Decision to force the county correctional facility to resume in-person visitation.

The ruling by State Supreme Court Judge Oliver R. Blaise III demanded that the Broome County Correctional Facility must allow visitors to be able to see their jailed friends and family beginning on Sept. 5. Visitation was suspended in March 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic took over the world. During this time, virtual visitation was permitted.

Blaise’s ruling, which was made in early August, said that the suspension was no longer necessary as vaccination rates were high and the circumstances surrounding the pandemic have changed since 2020.

Sheriff Harder, other than saying “it’s all in the court’s hands now,” declined to comment on the appeal specifically. Yet, he repeated that he was concerned about the health and safety of the inmates, officers and employees at the facility.

In May 2022, Justice & Unity for the Southern Tier, or JUST, filed a motion to have the suspension order expire, citing visitation should be permitted due to the high vaccination rate among the general population and the “relative decline in COVID-19 and hospitalizations” among other variables regarding the decline in the intensity of the pandemic.

In a news release, JUST called the appeal shameful.

“Our demand is simple,” JUST said. “Families and friends of the hundreds of persons in the jail call upon the state courts to reject the Sheriff’s delaying legal maneuver. We call upon county officials to withdraw support for the sheriff’s costly brutalities.”

State Senator and Candidate for Sheriff Fred Akshar released a statement regarding the appeal. Akshar said he will open visitation within his first 30 days of office.

The full statement is posted below:

My official position as a candidate for Sheriff has been from the start that I will open up visitation for families and loved ones within my first 30 days in office. The bottom line is the judge made the right decision in forcing the Broome County Correctional Facility to allow visitation for the first time since March 2020. No appeal or delay will change the fact that denying families and loved ones any visitation throughout 2022 has nothing to do with COVID-19 and everything to do with an inability or unwillingness to provide adequate staffing due to poor planning, under-recruitment and low morale.

Correctional facilities in our neighboring counties have been allowing visitation for families and loved ones, and so can we. Broome County families deserve common sense and common decency from their law enforcement administration, not more of the same status quo policies and management. With the help and support of Broome County voters through Election Day and beyond, we can bring lasting, positive change throughout the Broome County Sheriff’s Office, including the correctional facility.

Likewise, Candidate for Sheriff Kate Newcomb also believes the jail should be opened for visitation but there should also be a focus on health and safety.

Her statement is posted below:

The health, safety and well-being of all persons within the Correctional facility is of utmost importance! With respect to incarcerated persons and maintaining a healthy and well-balanced state, they surely need face-to-face, in-person interaction with their loved ones. The sheriff must give careful consideration to a plethora of issues during these uncertain times. Covid numbers are once again on the rise, and we know the virus is easily spread. With those thoughts in mind, I support the reopening of visitation, however, with restrictions to safeguard the health and safety of all.

Newcomb, who is currently employed and served as a captain with the Broome County Sheriff’s Office, will be up against Akshar in the general election on Nov. 8.

JUST said it seeks to overturn the appeal.

When the initial ruling was first announced, JUST told 12 News it was relieved to see the decision.

“We are taking this as a moment of happiness and joy and we’re going to keep it as that,” said Program Coordinator for JUST Jackson Hengsterman on Aug. 24. “But we know this is also one small step in a larger process that we’ve been working on for a while now.”