Miami County is far from alone with its lack of jail space for female offenders, a state organization policy analyst with expertise in criminal justice said last week.
The county commissioners turned March 18 to John Leutz of the County Commissioners Association of Ohio to obtain more information on the status of jails and their regulation in the state.
The commissioners told Leutz before their discussion that they requested the meeting as they continue to talk with Sheriff Charles Cox and work to figure out the Miami County Jail situation.
Cox has called for consolidation of the county’s maximum security jail with cells at the Safety Building in downtown Troy with the newer Incarceration Facility (IF) for minimum security male offenders off County Road 25A between Troy and Piqua. The IF is made up of four, 60-bed pods, two that now are open.
That proposal for a longer-term answer to jail issues remains under study, and debate.
In the meantime, the sheriff’s office and commissioners are looking for an answer to jail space for a growing number of female offenders.
The most recent discussion ended with plans to talk with Shelby County about possibly renting beds there for female inmates. Another option discussed was the opening of a third IF pod to house females.
If males and females are housed in the same facility they have to be separated by sight, sound and touch and the female area staffed by female correction officers.
Leutz said the growth in females in jail is a new dimension for many operators of jails, most which were not designed to house both males and females. For a number of counties, taking females to other counties that have space for them has been the answer so far.
Among questions that come up in discussing available and proposals for jail space is the amount of space required per prisoner and the status of jail regulations, the commissioners said.
Leutz said the state currently has only one jail inspector and that inspections in recent years have focused only on some of the more than 380 jail standards on the books.
New standards have been drawn up and will be used for inspections beginning in 2015, Leutz said. Training on the new standards will be provided for jail administrators.
Leutz said a couple of key questions should help determine if a new jail is needed.
The first is if the current facility maintenance cost starting to kill the county. The other, he said, is whether things are occurring in the jail that are not good. That question needs a closer look at what factors have led to the problems, he said.
Many jails built in the ‘70s and ‘80s now are having issues with systems such as HVAC, Leutz said. The local downtown jail was built with the county Safety Building in the early 1970s and commissioners know its plumbing “is shot,” Commissioner John “Bud” O’Brien said.
If a new facility is the path chosen, there isn’t money available from the state, Leutz said. The county’s existing jail space is close to the courts, he noted. “You don’t have a bad set up,” Leutz said, adding, though, the question is whether or not it is what is needed.
“I think the physical facilities are not at the point where they are an issue,” Cultice said. He pointed out the IF can house at capacity 240 while the downtown jail is being limited to 40-50 males and females.
“We have facilities for (nearly) 300 people. One way or another we’ve got to find a way to make that work,” Cultice said.
Leutz said judicial practices in the sentencing/jailing of people also play a role in jail space issues.
The local judges have been “very supportive,” Cultice said. The economic issue is coordinating the population within the available facilities, he said.
Leutz suggested the commissioners in their research also talk to a respected jail administrator in northwest Ohio.