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About Us

The Onondaga County Justice Center Oversight Committee (JCOC) is composed of nine members of the community, two of whom must have prior law enforcement experience and two of whom must have experience in civil rights or civil liberties advocacy.  There are currently eight members serving on the Committee. 

Members of the JCOC are drawn from the diverse population of Onondaga County.  Two of the nine possible members of the Committee are appointed by the Onondaga County Executive.  Six are appointed by the Chair of the Legislature, including at least one recommended by the Minority Leader.  One more is appointed by the Mayor of the City of Syracuse.  All appointees must be confirmed by the Legislature. 

 

Each member serves a 3 year term, although the terms of the initial members are staggered over one, two or three years.  Terms begin on January 1st and end on Dec. 31st of the related year.  Members may be reappointed to serve 2 successive full 3 year terms, after which they cannot be considered for reappointment until an additional 12 months has passed since the end of their last term.

 

The JCOC meets monthly on the first Wednesday of each month.  The business portion of JCOC meetings are open to the public and include an opportunity for visitors to briefly address the Committee on matters relating to its business and mission. Members of the public may contact the administrator to request email notification of upcoming meetings.  Information related to particular complaints, incidents, related investigations or resulting recommendations are NOT discussed in public.  The JCOC members will adjourn to Executive Session to discuss such matters.  The public cannot be present during Executive Session. 

 

To view brief bio’s of the appointed members of the JCOC please click on their names below:

 

To view a brief bio of the Administrator for the JCOC please click here: Barrie Gewanter

 

 

Why & How was the JCOC Created?

 

The JCOC was created by the Onondaga County Legislature in response to a call for independent oversight of the jail by community advocates from a cross-cultural coalition known as United as One following the death of two individuals at the jail in 2010. These advocates suggested that independent oversight was necessary to ensure that lessons from incidents at the jail are carried forward in order to prevent traumatic outcomes.

 

The Legislature passed a local law to create the JCOC in January 2015 in a unanimous vote  At the same time the Legislature enacted a separate law to “renew and strengthen” the Human Rights Commission which had not been functional since 2010.  The legislation tasked the Human Rights Commission staff with providing investigatory and administrative support for the JCOC.  In August of 2015 the Legislature confirmed a new Executive Director for the Human Rights Commission, who would also serve as Administrator for the JCOC.  Human Rights staff subsequently began to accept JCOC complaints. 

 

The members of the new JCOC were subsequently appointed by the County Executive, the Legislature and the Mayor of the City of Syracuse. Its first meeting was held on March 29, 2016.

 

2015 Enabling Legislation

 

To read a copy of the legislation that created the JCOC click here

 

To read a copy of the legislation that renewed and strengthened the                                          Human Rights Commission click here

 

A Note About Law Enforcement & Correctional Oversight

 

There are over 270 law enforcement oversight entities around the United States, most of which address issues with the activities of police agencies. The website of the National Coalition for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (link to http://www.nacole.org/police_oversight_by_jurisdiction_usa) lists 137 entities that provide some form of external oversight of police agencies, including but limited to the independent local entities known as Citizen Review Boards (CRB’s).   

 

However, most oversight entities that address issues in jails and prisons in the United States occur only at the state level, or focus on issues related to state correctional facilities.  (For a listing of these entities by jurisdiction see this 2010 article http://digitalcommons.pace.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1764&context=plr).  There are only 10 local  oversight entities in the U.S. that address issues at local jails.  Three such entities have been enacted in NY State.  The Onondaga County Justice Center Oversight Committee (JCOC) is the only such entity in Upstate NY.

 

The Justice Center Oversight Committee differs in several significant ways from a Citizen Review Board (CRB) such asthe City of Syracuse Citizen Review Board (link to http://www.syracuse.ny.us/CRB.aspx).  For instance:

  • Most CRB’s review only complaints made by persons that object to the actions of officers in a police encounter. The JCOC reviews both incidents that occur in the jail and complaints about what occurs in the jail.
  • Most CRB’s make recommendations about the discipline of officers involved in a complaint, as well as recommendations about policy, procedure and training.  The JCOC only makes recommendations about policy, procedure and training.  

There is also another key dynamic in oversight of a local jail.  The Chief officer in charge of most local police agencies is appointed by the Mayor of that municipality, and are technically part of the executive branch in that municipality.  That Mayor can instruct a police Chief to cooperate with a CRB or support a police Chief’s decision not to.  In NY State, a Sheriff’s Department is usually in charge of the local county jail.  Such Sheriffs are separately elected by the voters in their county.  As a separately elected official, a county Sheriff is not subject to the will of the county executive or the county legislature.  The Sheriff decides what occurs within their jail within the appropriate state standards or regulations.

 

So the Onondaga County Legislature cannot compel the Sheriff to cooperate with an oversight entity such as the JCOC.  However the Onondaga County Sheriff has chosen to see the work of the JCOC as helpful to its mission to ensure the quality of its work with inmates held in the jail, and so there has been open communication and sharing of information between the Sheriff’s office, Custody administrators and the JCOC administrator since the JCOC was initiated.  The Sheriff welcomes the recommendations of the JCOC.

 

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