Sunday, February 06, 2000

Double celling considered for Warren jail

But sheriff cool to proposal

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — More offenders could be placed on house arrest and on work details and some might be sharing cells as county officials look to ease crowding problems at the 4-year-old Warren County Jail.

        Sheriff Tom Ariss said commissioners asked him to look into double-celling inmates to increase capacity — a possibility that makes him uneasy.

        It's also one that state corrections officials said could cost him certification for meeting Ohio's minimum jail standards. The accreditation is meant to help jailers show professionalism if they have to defend themselves in a lawsuit, they said.

        “We have to be concerned about the safety of our people and the inmates,” Sheriff Ariss said. “This building is designed on minimum standards. We have our accreditation to be concerned about.”

        State minimum standards recommend a minimum of 70 square feet per inmate in each cell. Bunking two inmates in a single cell would violate that standard, said Deb Stewart, acting administrator for the Ohio Bureau of Adult Detention.

        County Commissioner Mike Kilburn said he's not concerned about losing certification.

        “Our job is to run county programs as cost-effectively as we can. The fact that an elected official can't have another plaque on his wall — that's secondary to what being a prudent gatekeeper of the county's treasury is all about,” Mr. Kilburn said.

        Sheriff Ariss said his jail began experiencing overcrowding problems late last summer. The jail was built in 1996 for 175 inmates, but only 159 of those cells can be used to house the general jail population.

        Some others — including 10 isolation cells, three beds in the medical unit and three more holding cells — must be set aside, the sheriff said.

        The crunch has prompted sheriff's officials to ship more than a dozen prisoners to Miami County Jail since Jan. 13 and to release some minor offenders from their sentences early. The sheriff also is seeking approval on a $600,000 renovation of space in the old jail to increase beds for women.

        Last week, judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officials on the Community Corrections Planning Board pitched a proposal to fix some of the overcrowding problems.

        Prosecutor Tim Oliver, who is chairman, said the planning board is seeking $37,400 from commissioners to hire a second person to help monitor offenders in home incarceration and community service programs that keep some out of jail.

        That new corrections officer would help expand the county's community service program so that more jobs are available for offenders, he said.

        Judges quit using the program in the past year, partly because they lost faith in it, Mr. Oliver said. Its use plummeted by 90 percent — from 9,000 hours of community service in July 1998 to 872 hours in July 1999.

        “We just didn't have the manpower to properly monitor it. We need job sites. We need to get people there and back. If there are problems with it, we need to be able to take care of the problems,” Mr. Oliver said.

        Mr. Oliver also said the county is planning to add 10 electronic bracelets so that up to 26 offenders could be placed on house arrest instead of sending them to jail.


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