Middletown officials have been studying and discussing closing the city’s nearly 44-year-old jail, which is unique in Ohio, for several years. No decisions will be made soon, and the question will be addressed in 2020, according to city officials.
Here is a look at five key issues facing the Middletown City Jail:
It’s one of five full-service city jails in Ohio
Of the 313 adult detention facilities in Ohio, Middletown is one of five full-service municipal jails. Most cities and villages in Ohio have six- or 12-hour holding cells to detain prisoners before transporting them to a county or regional jail operated by multiple counties, which operate 87 full-service jails.
Costs are going up
The 2019 city budget allocated about $1.3 million to operate the Middletown jail and cover the housing costs of up to 40 inmates per day. A 2017 jail analysis commissioned by the city noted there were more than $1.6 million in deferred maintenance costs to meet current state standards.
From a maintenance perspective, the jail was rated as being in “fair to poor condition.” In addition to capacity issues, there are also changes in jail medical policies that require officers to take intoxicated people to a hospital before booking them into the jail for liability reasons.
The Ohio Bureau of Adult Detention has recommended a jail population of 34 inmates. That is down from previous populations in past years, when the jail held as many as 70 to more than 90 prisoners by triple-bunking.
The jail is outdated
The Middletown jail is on the lower level of the city building and is underground and under a parking lot. It was built between two busy streets, which does not lend itself to expansion. Major issues at the jail include worn locking hardware, poor ventilation, electrical code violations, non-detention grade lighting, inadequate showers and obsolete fire alarm and suppression systems.
It does not meet current state standards
The 2017 inspection 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.
The state considers the Middletown jail as a “status jail” until its next inspection or until all corrective actions have been completed. The city has obtained variances from the state to continue its operations.
There is opposition to closing the jail
The jail issue has been a topic in recent judicial elections. The late Judge Mark Wall as well as the current incumbent Judge James Sherron have said a closure would have a catastrophic impact on the city.
The proposed closing of the jail is opposed by several former police chiefs as well as the police union, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 36. Opponents said closing the local jail would force police to transport prisoners to the Butler or Warren county jails and any savings would be offset by transportation costs.
In addition to taking officers off the streets for longer amounts of time, the county jails may be full and unable to accept them.
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