Saturday, March 28, 2009

Dealing with Jail Overcrowding

There are many things we are working on to try to deal with the safety and jail overcrowding problem amid a tough budget. I've talked about many of them at this blog. Examples include:
  • Find ways to get homeless people in shelters and transitional housing, as opposed to jail
  • Identify veterans that can be appropriately diverted and receive treatment, paid for by benefits they earned through their service.
  • Get citizens with mental illnesses and substance abuse the treatment they need, and out of the revolving door of the jail.
  • Improve and reform processes so we move cases more quickly, and house fewer felons waiting for trial.
  • Use more electronic monitoring units, and more fully utilize the River City (state-funded) facility.
  • Use pretrial services to do "reentry planning" to reduce recidivism.
  • Use federal gun laws (Project Disarm) to get the worst offenders into the federal system.
Even in our tight budget, we are working on all these, and many more solutions. They are all important steps.

But even with all these solutions being pursued, there remains a jailspace crunch. Specifically, with a great percentage of jail beds being taken up by accused felons waiting for trial (who, if convicted, will go to the state penitentiary), there are very few spaces left for convicted criminals (misdemeanants) to serve any sentence at all. (Note: Misdemeanor sentences are served at the county jails, while felony sentences are serves at state penitentiaries). And nothing more frustrates judges, police officers or citizens than convicted criminals walking away from sentences because there's no room at the inn.

Which is why, after discussions with Campbell County officials, I offered a plan to the City that was reported in the Enquirer today. Campbell County is willing to house convicted misdemeanants at a far lower rate (under $44 per bed ber day) than is available in Ohio. They are willing to pay to transport these offenders to and from our court. And unlike past agreements, there is no "guaranteed minimum" of beds that must be paid for. So the City would only pay for the beds it uses.

But the point is, through the Campbell County option, the City (or any municipality) could guarantee itself a number of beds for convicted misdemeanants (arrested through their police agency) to actually serve their time.

My role has been simply to facilitate another option. It will up to each jurisdiction to determine if it's worth taking advantage of.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Pepper,

This makes me nervous. Aren't we getting into the same situation we were in before with Butler County? Isn't that one of the reasons our budget is in such a mess?

David Pepper said...

Good and fair question, which is why I too approached this issue cautiously.

The bottom line is that if the City were to do this, it's a much better deal than the one the County committed to in 2006 with Butler County.

1. It's a lot cheaper than Butler County, or likely any County in Ohio.

2. There's no guaranteed minimum (Ham. County guaranteed payment for 300 beds, even if 300 weren't used), which means City prosecutors can decide if it's worth the cost for individual inmates on a case by case basis, and they'll never be stuck paying for unused beds as the County was

3. Butler County was not budgeted, but was paid for out of the County's reserve. If municipalities choose to use this option, they should not make the same mistake.

4. Butler County was the ONLY solution the Commissioners pursued, when there are so many others available that we are now pursuing and implementing

Overall, we're just trying to respond to a number of jurisdictions who are frustrated about jailspace. This gives them another option to pursue.

Anonymous said...

I feel like this is side-stepping the will of the voters. (Though I voted for the jail tax - it was because of all the programming to go along with it.)The taxpayers said loud and clear they don't want their tax dollars going to pay for more jail time - they want the system fixed, they want only the worse of the worst in jail - not to mention - have you heard the stories coming out of Kentucky about how they treat inmates - particularly blacks.
I say no. We need to solve our CJ problems - not push it off into another jurisdiction.
Please do an efficiency study of the operations of the court system itself - court watching for years says that a new mechism of delivering judicial services is woefully needed.

Quim said...

Why is the Campbell County jail so much cheaper ?

Anonymous said...

Campbell County is accepting misdemeanors - not maximum security. Cheaper, according Jail standard - ratio of supervision vs. detainee/inmate. However, if this is the base cost without medical needs, one could expect the cost to be higher than anticipated.

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