Drug epidemic forces communities to find incarceration alternatives –
Story and photo by Patricia Beech –
Local jails traditionally incarcerated the drunk and disorderly people awaiting trial, and those who needed to be removed from society for breaking the law. In recent years, however, jail populations across the country have skyrocketed, fueled by widespread heroin and opioid addiction – a trend that shows no sign of slowing.
In response, many communities are turning to incarceration alternatives to cope with the soaring number of prisoners.
The Adams County hail has space for only 38 prisoners, yet the average daily number of inmates routinely eclipses 70, and the majority are drug-related, nonviolent offenses, according to Sheriff Kimmy Rogers.
“In a perfect world, we’d have the money to build a new jail that could hold all these prisoners, but even then, we wouldn’t have the money to operate it – so that’s off the table.”
During the past three years overcrowded conditions in the county jail has required that excess prisoners be transported to the Southeastern Ohio Regional Jail – a five-hour round trip. The cost to the county – $471,000 plus $300,000 for medical treatment of prisoners in both facilities.
Rogers says the closing of the county’s power plants has brought a new urgency to the problem of overcrowding at the jail.
“We can live in a dream world and act like we have money to cover these costs, but there is a day of reckoning, so we have to do everything we can to save money.”
To address the problem, county leaders, in partnership with the Sheriff’s Office, established a workhouse on Cross Road off State Rte. 247 near the Salamon Airport.
The facility houses only prisoners convicted of non-violent misdemeanors and non-violent low-level felonies such as failure to pay child support; failure to appear in court; possession of drug paraphanelia, and possession of small amounts of drugs. Prisoners who cannot afford to post bond may also be housed at the facility, with a judge’s permission, until they pay for their bond.
Prisoners who have jobs are placed on the work release program and are randomly drug-tested when they return to the facility at the end of their work day. Any work furlough prisoner producing positive results is returned to the county jail. Work furlough prisoners must also pay a percentage of their wages to the workhouse to cover the cost of incarceration.
Prisoners may also be granted medical furloughs for doctor appointments, which frees the county from responsibility for the inmate’s medical bills.
A complete criminal history is conducted to determine which prisoners may be housed at the facility. Prisoners whose sentence exceeds six months are not eligible.
According to Sheriff Rogers, incarceration at the workhouse facility is voluntary and inmates must agree to work.
“They mow, clean up roads, do garden work, wash their own clothes, and prepare their own meals with food we provide to them.”
The facility also provides six part-time, in-county jobs. “If we’re going to spend that kind of money at Southeastern, I think we’re better off to spend it here by creating jobs,” says Rogers.
The facility also offers church services on Sunday, allows each prisoner a visitor once a week for 30 minutes, and counselors are permitted to visit prisoners.
Any prisoner who walks away from the facility is charged with escaping and will face time in prison.