Judge: Closure of Middletown City Jail would have ‘catastrophic impact’ on community

A local judge will be making his case for keeping the Middletown City Jail open as a full-service jail during a meeting today.

Middletown Municipal Judge James Sherron is on today’s council agenda to present his side of the issue. The possible jail closure is also opposed by the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 36, the union that represents Middletown police officers.

“I want council to take all factors into consideration before they make any determination on the future of the jail,” Sherron said. “I want to present my case to council.”

Last month, city officials said they are continuing to evaluate what do with the 43-year-old jail below the Middletown City Building. Officials said operating a full-service jail costs more than $1 million a year, and the jail consistently receives failing grades on state inspections.

Middletown is one of only five municipalities in Ohio that operates a full-service jail. Other Ohio municipalities operate 12-day facilities, 12-hour facilities or six-hour temporary holding facilities used until the prisoner is transferred to a county jail.

Officials started their recent scrutiny of the jail about two years ago while considering the costs and the possibility that state restrictions could force them to close the jail. The city budgeted $1.3 million to operate the jail this year.

City officials have told this news outlet that there is no timetable and no decisions have been made to close the jail. The closing of the jail has been discussed several times over the years by previous councils.

Last month, Sherron said he would be losing his biggest hammer in his toolbox by not having the jail or having a reduced capacity.

“It would have a catastrophic impact on the community in terms of economics, the quality of life, and public safety,” Sherron said last month. “Losing jail space takes away any deterrents and we’re already seeing this in the jail population.”

Officer Dennis Jordan, FOP Lodge 36 president, said he will be reiterating that the police union is “100 percent against the closure of the jail.” Jordan recently said he could not see any cost savings in closing the jail and that costs would increase with officers transporting prisoners to the Butler or Warren county jails as well as taking officers off from patrolling the streets.

Council will meet at 5:30 p.m. today in the council chambers on the lower level of the Middletown City Building, 1 Donham Plaza.

The 2019 budget calls for housing 40 inmates per day, which is above the state recommendation of capacity of 34 inmates or fewer and well below the 70 to 90 housed by triple-bunking in past years. City officials said they will work to meet the state recommendation.

The most recent state inspection results, from 2017, noted that the jail did not comply with 12 standards — one essential and 11 important standards. Some of the issues include the need to better secure the booking area, inadequate seating, inadequate natural light and issues with shower areas. Middletown is a “status jail” until its next state inspection or until all corrective action has been completed. The city has had to obtain variances from the state to continue operations.

A city-commissioned analysis of the jail in 2017 noted “the overall condition of the Middletown City Jail from a maintenance perspective is fair to poor” and that there were more than $1.6 million in deferred maintenance projects as officials look for solutions.

“The question to ask is this: Is it worth $1.3 million to the city to house 32 inmates at a time, when the violent and felony prisoners go to the county anyway?” said Middletown Police Chief Rodney Muterspaw. “That is the hard question we have to face.”

He said city and Middletown Municipal Court officials have met to find ways to reduce inmate numbers and that the court has been very helpful.

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