Sunday, August 25, 2002

Clermont jail has room for 110 more

Alteration adds beds, subtracts criminals walking free

By David Eck
Enquirer contributor

        BATAVIA - With 110 new beds in the Clermont County Jail in place and a large jail addition in the pipeline, Clermont County officials hope to whittle down the list of about 100 offenders who remain free while waiting to serve their jail sentences.

        “We constantly battle the crowding problem,” Clermont County Chief Deputy Christopher Willis said. “When inmates come in, if we have the room, we take them. You don't know when space is going to become available.”

        The offenders are moved in as space frees up. The average sentence in the Clermont jail is 30-45 days, officials said.

        “The jail alteration and additional beds are needed due to Clermont County's increased population over the last 10 years and our location as a border county in the State of Ohio,” Clermont County Commissioner Mary Walker said. “These additional beds will allow judges discretion in sentencing and not be constrained by the amount of available jail space. On the other hand, offenders will be able to serve their sentence in a timely manner, hopefully learn from their mistakes, and move on with their lives.”

        The county grew 18.6 percent between 1990 and 2000, U.S. Census figures show.

        Those waiting for jail space are non-violent offenders accused of such things as theft, traffic violations and driving under the influence. They are notified when they have to report. The wait time varies because of the jail crowding, Chief Deputy Willis said.

        “We recognize that it is not possible to put every single offender behind bars,” Clermont County Commissioner Bob Proud said. “This is not a problem we can build ourselves out of. However, our judges have been and will continue to be very diligent in juggling which offenders must be behind bars immediately and which nonviolent ones can serve the community through a variety of programs, such as picking up litter alongside roadways.”

        Jail officials and judges talk almost daily to make sure there is space for those who need to be in jail.

        “If a guy's got 10 DUIs, he doesn't go on a waiting list,” the chief deputy said. “He comes to jail.”

        Officials admit that having offenders wait for jail space takes the sting out of punishment.

        “You don't get justice,” Clermont County Sheriff A.J. Rodenberg said.

        Still, the $2.7 million alteration should help, officials say. It was paid for with state and local funds.

        The alteration, which was completed in June, brought 96 beds and 14 five-day classification beds. The jail alteration also enlarged the booking area. The total number of beds in the jail is now 374, including the 14 classification beds.

        A large expansion is scheduled to be completed in 2004. That $9 million project will bring 192 new beds. It will also bring a new administrative area, a new visitor facility, expanded lobby, and completion of a transfer tunnel to the new Municipal Court Building. That expansion will also be paid for with county and state funds, officials said.


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