Tuesday, October 03, 2000

Jail dispute leads to early exits

Warren County frees 4 inmates as crowding debate continues

By Cindi Andrews and Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — Four lawbreakers were sprung from jail early and more are likely to receive get-out-jail-free cards before a dispute between the Warren County sheriff and county commissioners is resolved.

        The Warren County Jail released four women Friday after the commissioners cut off Sheriff Tom Ariss' allowance for out-of-county jail space. More prisoners will have to be released in the coming weeks when the jail becomes full, the sheriff said.

        “I'm not trying to push anyone into a corner,” he said. “My main concern is the safety of my officers, the security of the facility — which is the safety of the public — and the safety of the prisoners.”

        Sheriff Ariss and others played down the public threat from prisoners freed early. Common Pleas Judge Daniel Fedders said he's not concerned because the sher iff has guidelines to make sure the least dangerous criminals are released first.

        The sheriff and the commissioners — all Republicans — have been at odds since the beginning of the year over how to relieve crowding at the jail.

        Built just four years ago to house 175 inmates, it has regularly reached or exceeded capacity since January.

        In a letter to Sheriff Ariss late last week, the commissioners accused him of moving too slowly on cost-cutting approaches.

        “It was our board, not you or your staff, that constantly requested information from Adult Detention on how we can find additional capacity within the existing facility, like double bunking,” the three commissioners said in the letter.

        Additionally, they threatened to cut the sheriff's 2001 budget if he forces the county to pay for more out-of-county jail space. Out-of-county cells have cost the commissioners about $175,000 this year, they say.

        In February, the sheriff sought money to build an addition and in the meantime began sending inmates to other counties' jails. Commissioners, however, insisted the department double-bunk prisoners and renovate part of the jail.

        “We want to have a jail that's going to meet the basic needs of our inmate population, but ... we're not running a Holiday Inn,” Commissioner Mike Kilburn said Monday.

        The jail ordered beds after the state gave approval for 14 more inmates in the men's minimum security section, Sheriff Ariss said. The company, however, lost the order and it may be a month before the beds arrive, he said.

        Renovations to the C-wing — a jail section that had been used for storage — to hold 18 female prisoners al so is behind schedule because of political squabbling.

        Commissioners wanted county workers to perform the work at a savings of about $300,000, while Sheriff Ariss, who estimated costs at $500,000, has demanded that they meet state standards.

        Scheduled to be finished this summer, work is still not complete.

        One issue both sides agree on: Double-bunking and the C-wing are only stopgap measures. An expansion to more than double capacity is in the offing, although commissioners say construction can't start until late 2001.


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