The three candidates seeking to complete the unexpired term of the late Middletown Municipal Judge Mark Wall said that they want the Middletown City Jail to remain open.
Incumbent Judge Melynda Cook-Howard, who was appointed in May by Gov. John Kasich to replace Wall, is running to retain the seat. Also running are local attorneys James Sherron and Elizabeth Yauch.
Because Wall died before three years before his term on the bench expired, state law requires an election to be held for a person to complete his unexpired term.
The candidates, all with more than two decades of legal experience, appeared during a candidates forum held Tuesday that was sponsored by The Chamber of Commerce Serving Middletown, Monroe and Trenton.
During the forum, the candidates shared their thoughts on the opioid epidemic and how it has affected them personnally, access to online court records, how they would to promote a better understanding of the court and the law to the community, how the court could partner with the city such as developing a certified drug court, and their public service outside of the courtroom.
Over the past several years, Middletown city officials have debated whether to keep its full-service jail open which costs about $1.2 million to operate each year and has a capacity of 56 inmates.
Middletown is one of a handful of cities in Ohio that operates its own jail as most full-service lock-ups are operated by county sheriffs. Many municipalities have temporary holding cells to detain offenders from six to 12 hours.
The candidates were asked what they thought. Here are their responses:
Cook-Howard: “Our jail has to stay open and this is why. If we instead are housing our inmates, our people incarcerated at the county jail, we will be and I’m sorry to be frank here, the red-headed stepchild of the county jail system. And if it’s an issue of whether our inmates are going to come over here for court or not, I can tell you that we’re going to be way down on the totem pole. The other cost that hasn’t really been thought about it, is who is going to transport those prisoners to and from court everyday? And that’s the police officers. Who is going to transport the person they just arrested? It’s a 30-minute drive to Hamilton. Thirty minutes plus 30 minutes round-trip. Plus about 30 to 45 to an hour sitting at the jail waiting to get that person booked in. So we’ve just taken officers off the street. We need our officers on the street and not transporting prisoners to and from. It’s also a safety concern to have officers going back and forth that far with inmates one, two, three, four, five in their cars or in vans and that is not something we can afford to have. We need to have our jail to protect our community. It is a incentive not to do a crime in our community. I bet if you ask anyone that has been in our dungeon.”
Yauch: “Well, once its closed, its not going to reopen. Period. We can’t afford to build a new one. We’re grandfathered in and there’s certain things we have to do to keep it appropriate for it to be a jail. But once it closes, we will never be able to fund a new jail. It would have to be in its own building, off-site, it has to have windows. (The) security that would need to be in place for a new jail would be astronomical. This is going to be another thing if we say, ‘gee let’s close it now’ and later on we’ll think we want it and we won’t be able to fund it. Let’s keep our dollars where we can keep them and do what we can to keep this open and keep working with the county. We’re going to need both counties. Middletown is both in Warren County and Butler County we’re going to have to work with both counties to keep our offenders going to those places as well. But whatever we can do to keep this jail open we’re going to have to do to keep the jail open.”
Sherron: The larger issue is the funding issue. Its going to save the city money in the general budget but dollar for dollar its going to cost that much more for the police department and for the municipal court in terms of transportation. We’re going to have to start doing video arraignments. We don’t have the facilities to do that so its going to be a hardware and software issue. But the bigger issue, a much bigger issue, is more criminals are going to be on the street. If you’re a female, and you’re charged with a crime in the Warren County portion of Middletown, if you’re charged with a felony, you’re not going to jail because they don’t have enough beds in the Warren County Jail. …. drug offenders that right now might be arrested and incarcerated for even if it’s just a short period of time, they’re going to have to be written a summons and sent on their way. There’s going to be criminals that are not going to jail. There’s going to be drug addicts that are not going to jail. So they’re going to back out and there’s going to be more overdoses and more deaths. It’s going to be catastrophic.”