Due primarily to financial issues, the solution to overcrowding problems at the Scioto County Jail sits largely with the judges of the Portsmouth Municipal Court and the Scioto County Court of Common Pleas, Scioto County Commissioner Bryan Davis said at Tuesday morning’s board of commissioners meeting.
Davis stated as soon as commissioners were notified by Sheriff Marty V. Donini of concerns regarding overcrowding at the jail, board members began discussions with local judges.
“We received some good feedback… As of today, they are working the problem,” Davis continued, several times arguing county officials and local judges all need time to deal with an issue brought to their attention only Friday.
He further emphasized several times there is no money to spare to pay for housing local prisoners in other counties. However, Davis also several times said commissioners understand there is a problem with overcrowding at the jail.
According to Davis, the general population of the jail was 226 Tuesday morning. Donini has said the Ohio Department Of Corrections and Rehabilitation set the maximum number of prisoners allowable at the local jail at 190. Late last week, Donini sent out far and wide requests to other Ohio counties who might have jail space to rent. He apparently received responses from only two counties, Noble and Shelby.
On Tuesday morning, with commission chairman Mike Crabtree absent, the two remaining commissioners voted to acknowledge the initial letter from Donini regarding overcrowding at the jail as well the receipt of two inmate housing contracts with other counties. Davis made clear the board only was accepting the contracts, not approving them.
“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 wrote in a letter sent to the media late last week. “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.”
Tuesday morning Davis talked about judges being willing to promote such ideas as house arrest or other alternatives to turning criminal suspects into county inmates.
“We’ve chosen to take the approach of working with our judges who are very good at this,” Davis said, going on to insist courts will not set free violent offenders. Last week, Portsmouth Municipal Court Judge Russell D. Kegley stated in an email sent the Daily Times the court already works with the sheriff’s office in attempts to lower the local inmate population, like Davis, mentioning alternatives to incarceration such as house arrest.
Although exact crime rates for the county seem difficult to come by, Davis said the crime rate locally has soared exponentially. He put the blame directly on the well-known opioid crisis.
County Economic Development Director Robert Horton said Portsmouth attracts crime partly because the city is home to numerous drug rehabilitation centers. He said the city has 18 rehab centers currently.
“It’s coming straight to us,” Horton said regarding crime.
Donini did not attend Tuesday morning’s board of commissioners meeting, but later told the Daily Times he took the time to watch a videotape of the meeting, adding he was pleasantly surprised at what he heard.
“They basically acknowledged the fact I had to do what I had to do,” Donini said, noting he was trying to stay in step with a recent opinion offered by the state attorney general regarding overcrowding at county jails.
Essentially, Attorney General Dave Yost opined state law mandates county sheriffs are responsible for dealing with any overcrowding issues at their jails and their one and only immediate remedy is to house inmates elsewhere.
While officials released two inmates after their transfer, Donini stated Tuesday his office transferred a total of 22 prisoners to other counties, namely Mercer and Shelby. Both counties sit approximately 163 miles and a 2.5 hour drive away from Portsmouth. Both also intend to charge Scioto County $60 a day per prisoner.
With that last fact in mind, Donini stated he wishes commissioners would move to approve the contracts with those counties as at some point somebody, no matter the source of the dollars, needs to pay for housing those inmates.
Reach Tom Corrigan at (740) 370-0715. © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.