There may be a showdown of sorts brewing over Scioto County Sheriff Marty V. Donini’s decision to send county jail inmates elsewhere due to what he says is severe overcrowding at the local jail facility.
Late this week, Donini sent a letter to the Board of Scioto County Commissioners, copied to four local judges, outlining what he claims is a serious and potentially dangerous crowding issue at the jail.
Late Thursday afternoon, Scioto County Commissioners Chairman Mike Crabtree released a letter labeled “To: Whom It May Concern.” On Friday, Donini forwarded a copy of that letter to various media including the Daily Times.
“As you know the Scioto County Jail is routinely overcrowded, and due to the situation, the sheriff is in the position, where the state may demand that he find somewhere else to send prisoners,” Crabtree’s letter begins.
“As you also know the general fund revenue has been cut due to the loss of the MCO (a certain type of state funding) portion of sales tax in the amount of $2.1 million and the certified budget is usually that much less than the budget requests,” Crabtree continued. “We are already in a situation that is unsustainable; therefore, we will not be able to appropriate additional funding to send people to out-of-town jails.”
Despite Crabtree’s comments, in the email he sent to the media, Donini stated his office Friday morning transported 10 local inmates to the Shelby County Jail in Sydney. Donini said Shelby sits approximately 163 miles and a 2.5 hour drive away from Portsmouth. Shelby will house the inmates at a cost of $60 per person per day. Donini added he also entered into an agreement with Noble County – also coincidentally roughly 163 miles and a 2.5 hour drive away – to house more inmates, again at a cost of $60 per inmate per day.
“These agreements have been reviewed and approved ‘as to form’ by the Scioto County Prosecutor’s Office and were submitted to the Board of Scioto County Commissioner’s for their approval at the Tuesday, August 20 board meeting,” Donini wrote.
As of Friday, Donini reported the county jail population as 230, with 220 inmates held locally. The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction limits the population of the Scioto County Jail to 190. Donini went on to say he anticipates farming out another approximately 15 inmates on Monday or Tuesday depending on whatever the inmate population is on those dates.
In a previous email sent to various media on Thursday, Donini included a letter from Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost stating county sheriff’s, under state law, have no remedy other than moving prisoners elsewhere when dealing with overcrowded jails.
In the Attorney General’s opinion, county sheriff’s 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.
Donini ultimately stated Thursday the solution to the overcrowding problem may rest primarily with local court systems, including Portsmouth Municipal Court. However, in an emailed statement, Portsmouth Municipal Judge Russell D. Kegley argued the municipal courts are only responsible for sentencing roughly 59 of the county jail’s current inmates.
“Several of those inmates will be heading to treatment within a week or so and are a danger to themselves and the community if they are not held prior to receiving appropriate treatment,” Kegley continued. “A number of others are charged with serious felony offenses that have been bound over to the Scioto County Grand Jury which has yet to consider them.”
Kegley added once those felony suspects are bound over, PMC loses jurisdiction.
”So, in fact,” Kegley wrote, “less than 20 percent of the jail’s population is the responsibility of PMC despite the fact that PMC hears thousands of cases per year that carry the possibility of incarceration.”
Kegley insisted the Portsmouth court has taken steps to help reduce inmate population, such as allowing house arrest in lieu of actual jail time.
“For the sheriff to accuse PMC of not taking an active role in reducing the inmate population is disingenuous, at the least,” Kegley concluded.
Municipal Judge Steve Mowery was out of town this week celebrating a milestone wedding anniversary but took a few minutes to call the Daily Times after hearing of Donini’s remarks. He stated he had never seen a request Donini referenced regarding cutting the inmate population in the county jail. He added his court does not always have a lot of options besides jail time.
In a voicemail message left at the Daily Time’s offices, Scioto County Court of Common Pleas Judge Mark Kuhn stated he was willing to address Donini’s concerns. However, he was unavailable for further comment as of Friday.
Reach Tom Corrigan at (740) 370- 0715. © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.