Paul McKibben reports:
Warren County’s jail is overcrowded and needs to expand, Sheriff Larry Sims said Tuesday.
Capacity at the jail on Justice Drive is 280 – 214 male and 66 female.
Last year the jail’s average population was 276 inmates, a 6 percent increase from 2011. The jail was at or above capacity 132 days in 2012, more than one-third of the year.
The average amount of time an inmate stayed at the jail also increased slightly, by about a day for male and female inmates.
County commissioners on Tuesday were reluctant to immediately agree to build an addition. They plan to re-activate a jail committee to study the problem.
Warren County is among the most fiscally prudent local governments in the region. The Enquirer reported in December that the county was one of only nine in Ohio and the only one in Southwest Ohio with no general obligation-limited tax debt. Commissioners prefer to pay cash for capital projects rather than borrow.
“If we throw money at this right now, all of the problems in the world could be fixed,” Commissioner Dave Young said. “But before I start talking about committing a lot to bricks and mortars, I need to understand how we did get from here to here. What changed?”
Sims said no one factor is to blame. He said it could be a combination of population, the economy and busier courts. In 2011, the General Assembly enacted new sentencing guidelines.
Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell said his office’s felony caseload last year increased by 12.5 percent. He said some judges are sentencing people to jail time when they have the option of sending them to prison.
Commissioners paid cash for an expansion of the jail in 1996. Two years ago, the sheriff’s office renovated the jail, including adding the ability to double bunk. That increased the jail’s capacity from 197 to 280 inmates. Sims said there is no where else to place bunks.
Warren County in the past sent inmates to Butler County. But today, Sims said after the meeting, Butler County requires a minimum of 50 inmates because it has to open another portion of its jail to justify staffing.
Sims said the county has little choice but to expand the jail. He didn’t know how much space is needed or how much it would cost.
Warren County isn’t alone with a crowded jail. Hamilton County officials have been grappling with overcrowding since budget woes forced the county to shut down its 822-bed Queensgate jail in 2008.
Two sales tax initiatives dedicated to building a new jail have failed and the county can’t afford to build one. Still, commissioners continue to work to solve the problem.
Reporter Sharon Coolidge contributed.