“First of all, let me say I don’t like the idea of doing it, but it has gotten to the point that I don’t have any alternative,” Scioto County Sheriff Marty V. Donini told the Daily Times Thursday, after previously announcing his intention to transfer roughly 40 inmates from the county jail to other facilities.
The move comes as a result of what Donini termed severe overcrowding in the Scioto County Jail. Donini Thursday sent out a widespread email to various sheriff’s departments asking any and all with space in their jails to please step forward.
“I am now in desperate need of jail space,” Donini wrote. “If any sheriff has any vacant jail beds that they would be interested in leasing on a daily basis, please be advised that I have a sincere desire and need to rent whatever you may have available.”
As of late Thursday afternoon, Donini stated he received responses from two counties, neither of which were willing to accept prisoners prior to Monday at the earliest. He received a phone call from a possible third department able to accept prisoners while speaking to a reporter.
Scioto County is responsible for the cost of housing its prisoners no matter where they are kept. Donini said one county intended to charge the county $45 per day per prisoner, while another mentioned an asking price of $60 per day per prisoner, with any additional costs, such as for medical care, added on to the final bill.
Earlier on Thursday, Donini released to various media a 54-page email detailing what he called the serious overcrowding problem at the Scioto County Jail. Donini stated the county detention facility had an inmate population of 252 as of Monday.
However, he also added, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction/Bureau of Adult Detention limits the capacity of the local jail to 190. In speaking with the Daily Times, Donini talked about a possible “explosion” at the jail and said he fears for the safety of inmates and prisoners alike due to the overcrowded conditions.
Prior to approaching the media regarding any overcrowding issues, Donini sent a one-page letter to the Board of Scioto County Commissioners, a letter copied to four local judges and the county prosecutor.
In that letter, Donini stated his office “has no ability to control the inmate population because this authority is statutorily controlled by our local judges, both Portsmouth Municipal Court and Scioto County Common Pleas court.”
“Unfortunately, it appears that neither of these courts are taking an active role in assuring that the inmate population does not exceed the limit imposed,” Donini continued.
In speaking with the Daily Times, Donini stated in response to the overcrowding, he contacted judges at the Portsmouth Municipal Court regarding possible early release of prisoners who had served at least half of their sentences. He added he received no response.
County commissioners held their regular biweekly meeting Thursday, the day after Donini’s initial letter was dated. However, he later said commissioners may not have received it in time for their Thursday morning meeting.
Indeed, Donini’s complaints were not a topic of conversation at Thursday’s board of commissioners meeting. A spokesperson for the commissioners stated their office did not receive word of Donini’s concerns until after the session. Two of the commissioners were said to be out of town and none were available for comment by deadline for this issue.
In his initial letter, Donini goes on to say his office years ago set up a procedure supplying relevant entities within the local criminal justice system daily reports regarding jail population. Donini stated representatives of the Portsmouth and county court systems, as well as their respective probation departments, are among the recipients of those reports.
“I might also add that as a result of the inmate overcrowding, Scioto County Jail’s operating budget is also severely impacted by increased food, clothing, bedding and medical service costs,” Donini wrote. “Our July 2019 prescription invoice increased from the June cost of $3,046.37 to $4,300.12, an increase of nearly $1,300.”
As part of the email sent to the media, Donini included a chart showing county inmate population beginning in January of this year. According to the color-coded chart, as of Monday, there were approximately 30 days this year when the county jail population was below 95 percent of the facility’s capacity. That means for the vast majority of days this year, the county jail population sat at 180 or more of its 190 inmate capacity. Those roughly 30 days greatly were outnumbered by the number of days the jail population was over capacity.
For example, according to Donini’s chart, the jail was over capacity for virtually every day in May and June and was over capacity throughout the month of July and every day of August through Monday. The number of prisoners seems to have peaked Monday, when Donini said the county inmate population reached the 252 number mentioned earlier. The lowest inmate population occurred in January, but even that low of 168 persons represents a large percentage of the jail’s capacity.
Much of the rest of Donini’s long email consists of a detailed listing of the names of inmates and the charges against them. Those charges range from misdemeanors to felonies and include everything from assaults, thefts, robberies and a plentiful number of drug charges.
Tacked onto the end of the email, is a letter from Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost to Guernsey County Prosecutor Joel Blue. Blue requested an opinion from Yost regarding the overcrowding of his county jail, which he said was permitted to house 78 inmates, but regularly houses in excess of 120.
“As are the courts,” Yost wrote, “we are cognizant of the perennial and growing strain caused by jail overcrowding. The law, however, is clear that the only remedy available to a county sheriff in situations of jail overcrowding is to transport excess prisoners to another county jail.”
In the Attorney General’s opinion, county sheriffs actually have a legal mandate to transfer excess prisoners to other facilities. Yost goes on to make clear the transporting county is responsible for the cost of those transfers and any costs for housing the affected prisoners.
“The remedy to any difficulty caused by this clear legislative scheme must be sought through the General Assembly,” Yost states.
For his part, Donini told the Times he really isn’t sure what the solution is. He noted the last time he needed to send inmates elsewhere happened in roughly 1998 prior to the opening of a new jail in 2006. Donini does not believe a new, bigger jail is the answer.
“It will just get filled,” he said adding the ultimate answer probably rests with local judges who he believes must be more cognizant of the ongoing situation at the jail.
“Somebody’s going to get hurt,” Donini said.
None of the four local judges sent copies of Donini’s initial letter, including two Portsmouth municipal judges and two common pleas judges, were readily available for comment Thursday afternoon.
Reach Tom Corrigan at (740) 370- 0715. © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.