Dept. of Corrections at odds with the criminal justice system, fueling overpopulation in county lockup –
By Patricia Beech –
Overcrowded conditions at the Adams County Jail are creating a more dangerous environment for prisoners and staff alike, according to Sheriff Kimmy Rogers.
“The more inmates you get, the more jail problems you have,” he says, adding that the jail, which was built to hold 38 prisoners, is currently housing 95 inmates.
The average number of inmates at the jail is 70 per day, but Rogers says that number increases every year, and that Ohio’s plan to reduce the state prison population to 48,000 has further escalated overcrowding in county jails across the state.
“We called Hamilton, Clermont, Butler, Madison, and several other counties to try to move 20 inmates – 10 women and 10 men, but no one has extra room,” he said. “Even if we could find another jail to take them, it would cost us $65 a day – times 20 prisoners – that’s $1,300 a day, plus the cost of transporting them back and forth.”
In comparison, the local workhouse at Salamon Airport can hold 20 inmates, and pay one guard $12 an hour, for approximately $400 a day.
Before the workhouse was built, the county spent almost half a million dollars a year to transport and house inmates in out-of-county jails.
Rogers says building a larger local jail isn’t a feasible solution.
“It’s nice to talk about a new jail, but it’s not an option,” he says. “Even if the county could afford to build it, we couldn’t afford to staff it.”
Currently, the majority of inmates incarcerated in the jail are on average 38 to 40 years old, and are repeat offenders.
Additionally, the majority of offenders are being jailed on drug charges related to methamphetamine use, rather then opioid use, which Rogers says has decreased dramatically in recent months.
He says legislators who continue to focus on the prevalence of opioid abuse are operating behind the eight ball.
“Every politician out there is still talking about opiates,” he says. “Eighteen months ago there would have been inmates here going through opiate withdrawal, but there is no one in this jail today who is going through that – it’s very rare now.”
Despite that, legislators continue to focus on pouring money into drug abuse treatment programs.
“It’s not good for them politically to run on a platform to raise money to help county jails,” says Rogers. “But it is a good for them politically to say they’re going to put more money into drug treatment, while reducing the number of state prison inmates.”
“The Ohio Department of Corrections (ODC), in my opinion has hijacked the criminal justice system. They look at an inmate’s record and think they know more about what should be done with that person than Judge Spencer or Judge Foster who deals with them in the courtroom and in the community.”
He says criminals are playing the system by falsely claiming to be drug addicted.
“I recognize that there are people who truly are drug addicts, but there are also people who want to be criminals and thugs who, when they are sent to jail want to be identified as drug users,” he says. “They call it ‘fake it to make it’ so they can be sent to treatment instead of prison – they’re taking advantage of a system that was created to help people, and county jails are paying the price for it.”
While the ODC claims it is successfully reducing the state prison population and recidivism rates among inmates, the facts on a local level tell a different story.
“They talk about reducing prison numbers to 48,000, but every jail in Ohio is either full or overcrowded, and every drug treatment center in the state is full, but Ohio remains one of the leading states for drug overdose deaths per capita,” says Rogers. “If they’re doing so well with recidivism rates, why are these three things happening?”
Warrants and entitlement programs are also factors in overpopulation of county jails.
A stack of 32 local warrants in orange, business-sized manila envelopes sit on Rogers’ desk. “These will all have to be served this week,” he says before pulling out a 4-inch binder bulging with outstanding warrants – 800 of them – some local and some from other counties and states.
“When deputies check license tags and find that a driver has a warrant, we have to bring them in, and that means we have to find a place to put them.”
Entitlement programs intended to help those in need are also targeted by criminals who end up incarcerated in county jails.
“Anytime you set up good programs for people who really need them, there are criminals who know how to infiltrate the system and take advantage of it,” Rogers said. “Especially men who live off women on government programs, they’re parasites and they drive up the number of inmates in local jails.”
In a live phone call from his office, Rogers asked Kyle Petty, the legislative liaison for the Ohio Department of Corrections, to meet with Common Pleas Judge Brett Spencer, Prosecutor David Kelley, and members of the local media to discuss the problem of overcrowding at the jail, but Petty refused his offer.
“The ODC will paint you a pretty picture, but when there’s someone in the room to dispute what they’re claiming, then the picture isn’t so pretty anymore,” Rogers said after hanging up the phone. “That’s why they refuse to come to a meeting if your news media is present.”
(Look for Part Two of this story in a future issue of The People’s Defender.)