The top law enforcement official in Butler County says he backs a recent push by the Ohio governor to increase state inspections of county jails.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine reacted to recent inmate deaths and high-profile lawsuits alleging jail abuses by recommending the state boost regulation and inspection of the state’s 88 county jails.
DeWine wants the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to hire nine more employees, boosting the force to 15, to conduct annual inspections.
ODRC’s bureau of adult detention conducts inspections, examines complaints and investigates critical incidents at more than 300 jails across the state. The bureau will hire a registered nurse to examine medical complaints and care.
DeWine also is calling for wider distribution of inspection reports, unannounced inspections and mandatory reporting of critical incidents in jails to ODRC. Currently, reporting of in-custody deaths or use-of-force is optional.
The governor’s office said 44 of Ohio’s 88 full-service jails were non-compliant, especially Cuyahoga County Jail, which in 2018 failed at 84 of 135 standards.
In 2018, U.S. Marshals found “inhumane” conditions and civil rights abuses at the Cleveland facility, where nine inmates have died since early 2018.
“I back it (DeWine’s plan) 100 percent and it’s a long time in coming,” said Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones.
Jones said such inspections were cut back during the Great Recession.
“That was messed up. When the state stopped their inspections we had the feds come in and inspect our jail,” he said.
Jones also said each county’s publicly elected sheriff should be held solely responsible for the operation of its jail, “not a group that can’t be held accountable.”
Also backing the governor’s new plan is the County Commissioners Association of Ohio but with caveats. Officials with the group recently released a statement pushing for more funding for county jails.
“The age of county jail facilities suggests that there is a crisis on the horizon. Our county jail facilities have reached a point where costly updates and repairs to their structural, mechanical and operating systems have become a necessity,” said CCAO officials.
“It has been 15 years since the state provided capital funding for county jail construction and renovation through the biennial capital appropriations bills. State capital funding for county jails needs to be restored.”
Association officials also said “a county jail’s mission is not to treat or house the mentally ill or addicted. Jails are not designed to be treatment facilities, and jail staff are neither envisioned nor trained to be treatment providers. This population is at high risk for injuring themselves or others and the health care costs for these individuals are excessive.”
A lawsuit filed in July 2018 by several area defense attorneys in Dayton’s U.S. District Court claimed the Montgomery County jail is overcrowded and that inmates did not get proper medical attention and were mistreated.
The nearby Montgomery County Jail has faced at least 15 lawsuits over allegations of inmate mistreatment and overcrowding in the past few years. The county and its insurers have paid a price defending and settling lawsuits related to the jail.
The payouts from six completed or pending settlements could total around $10 million with other lawsuits still in court. The total does not include attorney bills.
The number includes a proposed $3.5 million to the family of Robert Richardson Sr., who died in 2012 while handcuffed face down in the jail, and more than $5 million to Joseph Guglielmo, a homeless veteran who said he had his head slammed into a concrete wall and has brain damage.
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