Erie County Opening Doors For Tour Of Downtown Jail

September 27, 2013 Updated Jul 2, 2010 at 6:56 PM EDT

By WKBW Programming

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September 27, 2013 Updated Jul 2, 2010 at 6:56 PM EDT

Buffalo, N.Y. (WKBW-TV) - It's been a while, but the downtown holding center was open to the media for a tour Friday.;

On the heels of a federal lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, which alleges mistreatment of inmates among other things, Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard and staff lead reporters through the facility Friday.

The point of the visit was to highlight the jail's suicide prevention efforts.

Since 2008-- 4 people have committed suicide at the jail-- and there have been reports of many more attempts. Erie County officials have long argued that -while recently there have been a high number of suicides- there is not a serious problem. They point to the fact that more than 22,000 inmates make their way through the facility each year.

"The fact is we average one or two a year. Some years we have none. Statistically we are doing pretty good." Said Cheryl A. Green, Erie County Attorney.

Federal officials quick to respond saying the County settled a portion of the federal lawsuit-- specifically dealing with the suicide issue-- and has agreed to make changes.

U.S. Attorney William Hochul Jr. argues that settlement is essentially an admission of guilt, but County officials disagree. Jail officials say changes to some of the inmate cells-- and suicide prevention policies were in the works long before a federal lawsuit was filed.

Among the changes made inside the facility: Plexiglass has been placed over bars on windows to prevent inmates from tying shoelaces to them in an attempt to hang themselves.

Air vents and cell beds have also been changed. Jail officials also modifying their suicide screening for newly arrived inmates.

Click on the video link to watch our story. Channel 7's Ed Reilly was the designated videographer that shot video for all media outlets. Channel 7's Patrick Taney reports.