Writing time at the Justice Center

Serving Justice series part II:

Talk about consolidation. Consider that each town in Onondaga County once had its own lockup.

Today there is the Onondaga County Justice Center (OCJC), and Jamesville, and then of course, beyond. The Justice Center sits in downtown Syracuse on State Street between the Public Safety Building and the Everson Museum of Art.

The building's exterior is urban-stunning. Inside it is intense with all the bells and whistles. The doors slam shut with a resonance. It is a real life, up to date slammer, a serious place. Although, the people that work there aren't hardened as often is the case with the prison guards in the big lock ups, such as nearby Auburn Prison.

Instead, they are deputies with the Onondaga County Sheriff's department. They exude law and order. And if they had their way you wouldn't make a return trip to the OCJC.

The OCJC is one operation that would rather keep its head count down, as 13,000 to 15,000 men and women come through each year. The average stay is 20 to 22 days, and unfortunately, the rate of return is 67 percent. The JC has 11 pods that hold up to 66 inmates and an infirmary for inmates that need more medical attention. The inmate will come from the booking unit and be transferred to a reception pod/unit as part of a process to see how the inmate adapts to jail and his or her surroundings.

One deputy said often the people in for the more heinous crimes are milder mannered. There is no magic sign hanging over an inmate's head that points to guilt or innocence. Most say they are innocent.

Each concrete cell has one window, reverse pressure in case of a fire, one bunk, two bins, a sink, a toilet. There aren't bars, instead, heavy metal doors with one narrow, vertical window with a small opening at the bottom. There is a piece of reflective metal on the wall instead of a glass mirror. Care is taken in trying to eliminate anything that could be manufactured into a weapon - either for self-infliction or to harm others.

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