Note: This column appears in the Wednesday, Jan. 8 newspaper on Page A3.
At times, various criticisms are levied at law enforcement, the jail, and the courts for short jail stays of arrested individuals. For example, “slapping criminals on the wrist,” operating a “turn-key jail, ” “looking the other way” and the like.
Underlying Dynamics affecting use of Local Jail
What is Really Happening?
In 1993, the federal government shut down our former jail (built in the 1800s) that housed 14 mail prisoners. Originally, the old jail had a few cells for females but use was discontinued long before 1993. There were so few female inmates it was actually cheaper to rent out of county jail space.
The old jail remained closed from 1993 through 2000. This constituted the entire length of the time Judge Marshall Bud Douthett served as Municipal Court Judge. All jail imposed had to be accomplished with out of county rented space. A new jail was planned using maximum security concepts and completed by 2000. All jail beds used for the 1993-2000 period were rented out of county space.
As things turned out by 2010, the maximum security design required a lot of floor space. A dormitory setting would have been much more efficient to hold a lot more inmates.
1. Our current jail risks an order to close each day it operates. The 40 male jail beds stand nearly always full each day of the year. Running over the allowed 40 beds creates conflict with the State of Ohio Bureau of Jails (Prisons) which could result in the ordered closure of the entire local jail.
2. Costs of out of county jail housing increased. Thus, the costs of transportation, and trips for medical maintenance are routinely occurring with each case along with transfers from jail to jail due to difficulties initiated by female inmates, often on purpose.
3. The rise in the number of criminal cases due to drug cases making use of jail appropriate has risen sharply since the current jail was constructed.
4. The rise in the number of female offenders is nothing short of dramatic, at times outnumbering the number of male offenders in the jails. All female beds are rented out of county.
5. Felony crimes have risen greatly in number along with the increase in everything else and general felony level offenders require some jail detention far and away before the misdemeanant. Can one release felony sex offenders, child abusers, burglars, robbers, murderers to make space for triple repeat shoplifters-drug abusers?
6. State Code Charging is becoming the norm. To varying degrees the City of Jackson, City of Wellston, and Village of Oak Hill have started writing offenses in state code instead of local ordinances which places all the burden of jail cost, transportation, medical care and the like, on only one party i.e., the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office.
7. The State Adult Parole Authority (APA) can and does jail any Parole Violator in jail whenever it desires displacing everyone else.
8. The present day jail cannot be expanded. Failure to provide for rising numbers in all categories, the growth in number of female offenders, and the increase of difficulties in complying with the Bureau of Jails (Prisons) standards, all combine to create an impossible situation.
9. State Legislature takes local county jail beds for state use in order to cut state budget. Compounding all of this the State of Ohio has legislated cost-savings laws to require the counties and not the State of Ohio detain both 4th and 5th degree felonies in local jail as opposed to sending them to state prison. The basic difference historically between felony and misdemeanor crimes has always been the ability to use state prison.
10. Finding space to rent has become nearly impossible. This legislative enactment has created a statewide shortage of jail space almost eliminating Jackson County’s ability to rent out of county jail beds because everything else is full.
11. Distance of available jail space is far and difficult to reach. If Jackson County or the Cities of Wellston or Jackson, or the Village of Oak Hill is able to find a rentable bed we are limited to the following locations:
- a few beds in Middleport City Jail
- a few beds in Gallia County Work Release (currently closed)
- beds at Woodfield, Ohio in Monroe County (one half the distance to Pittsburgh)
- beds at Mt. Gilead, Ohio in Morrow County (2 ½ hours one way in NW Ohio)
- beds at Bowling, Green Ohio in Wood County (near Lake Erie)
Our inmates tend to get ejected quickly by out of county jails. The inmates have become acclimated to the idea that any misbehavior while a guest in a foreign jail will get that inmate ejected from that jail. Any verbalization of suicidal thoughts will get them thrown out by that jail.
12. Our inmates quickly become ill, requiring an examination. Any ailment such as a tooth ache will require by law that the law enforcement agency responsible for the case make the trip to the jail (no matter how far) to take the inmate to the doctor, wait on the treatment, purchase the medications, and return the inmate to the jail (if permitted), then make the trip home.
13. The combined costs of out of county housing are breaking the public treasury. These trips are very expensive to the Jackson County coffers and have become mostly unbearable by the treasuries. The costs are not only in jail bed rent, but the transportation which includes officer overtime, including more than one officer required when transporting a female inmate.
Therefore, as the three court systems of Jackson County, being Municipal, Felony, and Juvenile Courts (for child support, contempt, and the like) attempt to share 40 beds, things becomes more than unwieldy.
Thus, while it is disheartening to read in the paper that Jon Doe is released from jail after a few days, and to conclude “slapping criminals on the wrist”, operating a “turn-key jail”, “looking the other way” and the like, please consider the above reasons that all add up.
Jackson County simply does not have enough Jail Beds in order to detain the prisoners. Therefore, the system is forced into a balancing act daily based upon choosing the worst of the worst for retention.
We hope to in the future set out discussion of each of the above 13 reasons why jail beds should be used carefully as each jail bed day is a valuable resource. Finally, we hope to present possible, logical alternatives as a way out of the quagmire of having few resources for an immense problem.