Wednesday, May 02, 2001

Diversion urged to prevent jail crowding

By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — With daily jail population expected to double to 476 inmates by 2010, Warren County officials need to beef up programs to keep offenders who are awaiting trial out of jail.

        That's one of the recommendations from a national consultant hired to assess crowding at the jail and help resolve a tug of war between Sheriff Tom Ariss and commissioners about how to house prisoners in the state's second-fastest-growing county.

        Commissioners want the sheriff to double-bunk prisoners. But the sheriff has refused, saying it would violate state standards.

        In a report released to the Enquirer on Tuesday, Thomas Rosazza of the National Institute of Corrections echoed what the sheriff has told commissioners: They may not cell inmates together unless they get permission from the state.

        Some commissioners have held that they don't need to ask the state, and that state jail standards are not mandatory.

        However, Mr. Rosazza pointed out that a $2.7 million state grant commissioners accepted in 1996 to build the current jail required the county to comply with Ohio jail standards.

        “It appears that the existing standards and the agreement to accept state funds for the construction of the jail would not allow for double-bunking, ...” Mr. Rosazza said, noting that double-bunking would require increased services and staffing at the jail.

        Mr. Rosazza urged county officials to:

        • Develop a criminal justice master plan now.

        • Expand the Community Corrections Program, which has a staff of two officers, to monitor more pretrial offenders with home incarceration and drug and alcohol screening.

        • Enter mediation to settle differences between the sheriff and commissioners over the double-bunking issue.

        “Currently, the relations between them have deteriorated and they are at a standoff on the issue of double-bunking. Any variance request for double-bunking is doomed to failure if it is not endorsed jointly,” Mr. Rosazza wrote.

        Sheriff Ariss said he favors creating an advisory board to look at long-range jail needs. He said he would support double-bunking if the state approved it. However, he won't be the one to request a variance.

        “I think commissioners have got to make the request. They are the ones pushing it,” Sheriff Ariss said, expressing concern that the current jail could not accommodate the additional staff and service space needed for more inmates.

        Commissioner Pat South said double-bunking is worth pursuing. Commissioners have assured the sheriff they will pay for additional staff if a variance is granted.

        “We can't just pretend the problem is going away, because it won't,” Mrs. South said.

        “But we should use the jail space to the highest efficiency so we can forgo adding jail beds until we absolutely have to.”


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