The long, frustrating process of visiting loved ones in Nassau County’s jail
Nassau County lawmakers will hear testimony Wednesday on a staffing shortage at the county’s jail that critics say has created a frustrating and restrictive visiting policy — with no weekend visits, no televisits for family and evening visits just two days a week.
Visits at the jail are more restricted than in New York City, Suffolk and Westchester counties. Nassau has three hours of after-work visiting slots, but only on Thursday and Friday. Most other jails in the region have more evening hours, weekends, or televisits.
People hoping to visit loved ones in Nassau have said they must navigate a perplexing online scheduling system, wait for days to find out whether they got their desired time slot, then start over if they did not.
County officials did not respond to multiple inquiries about the reasons for the jail’s restricted visiting hours.
However, defense lawyers and union officials blame the restrictive policy on a shortage of correction officers, particularly officers dedicated to escorting detainees to the visiting center.
“They tried to clip that to save a little bit of money. All this nickel-and-diming crap, and make that some other patrol guy’s duty,” said Brian Sullivan, president of Nassau County Sheriff’s Correction Officers Benevolent Association.
According to Sullivan, the county was supposed to hire 100 new correction officers this year, but instead only hired 27. At the same time, 37 officers retired. He recently brought his concerns to lawmakers. Both Republicans and Democrats in the county legislature expressed alarm during a public safety committee meeting last month.
During the hearing, Deputy County Executive Tatum Fox acknowledged that Nassau is struggling to hire enough correction officers.
“Civil service contacted 220 people, and only 45 appear to have started the process,” she said. In response, lawmakers called for Wednesday's public hearings on the issue.
On a recent November evening, a group of family members gathered outside the jail waiting to get in the visitor center in an unheated plexiglass shelter. They are often kept waiting past their appointment time outside and a small community has formed.
That evening they pass the time by commiserating and exchanging tips on scheduling appointments: Never cancel an appointment because they’ll deny your next one, don’t pick the last time slot because correction officers will cut your visit short to go home early, and never, ever be late.
After most of the visitors went inside, one last car pulled into the parking lot. Trimecca Burton got out with a 2-year-old child in her arms and sprinted toward the security booth. She talked for half a minute with a correction officer and then turned back, dejected.
Burton said she has to borrow her mother’s car to visit her fiancé, the father of her child, in the Nassau jail. But that day, her mother got home late from work, and she arrived 15 minutes late for her visit.
“They told me they’re closed,” Burton said. “My visit was at 6:45 p.m., but he said they shut down.”
As Burton had loaded her daughter in her mom’s car, her phone rang. It was her fiancé, the person she was trying to visit. He was disappointed.
“They don't care about nobody’s family,” she said. “They don't care about the loved ones that come here. What if that was your family? How would you feel?”