Municipal Court Judge James Sherron told Middletown City Council that closing the Middletown City Jail would have a “profound and catastrophic impact” on the community.
He presented his case at council’s meeting Tuesday before a large audience of court personnel, city and county officials, former police chiefs, police officers and concerned residents.
While the issue has been tabled until next year, Sherron believes “the issue remains critical and timely to still merit discussion right now.” While he said he fully respects City Manager Doug Adkins and the work he has done for Middletown, they “simply have a deep disagreement on this issue.”
He said the reductions in jail population have already caused limitations in the court as there are more than 1,800 unserved warrants in Middletown excluding warrants for monetary sanctions. Last year, the court processed 6,000 cases and 70 percent of those cases involved alcohol or drug offenses.
“Make no mistake, closing the jail will, in my opinion, have a profound and catastrophic impact on Middletown and its residents,” Sherron said. “Criminals who should be in jail will not be. Crime will increase. Drug-related activity and overdoses will increase. The city’s expenses will increase and public safety will be further jeopardized. Middletown will no longer have control over many of the offenders committing crimes here.”
He also said neither Butler or Warren County will house non-violent misdemeanor offenders.
“Catch and release will become the routine,” Sherron said. “So someone charged with breaking in to your garage and stealing your mower today could be going after your snow blower tomorrow and never go to jail.”
Sherron said the community wants and deserves to be heard on this issue and that the future of the jail should not be left up to any one person or perhaps even council. He suggested that the question be put to a vote or at the least establish a task force or committee to investigate the options and repercussions of closing the jail before taking any other action.
“Once you close the jail, it will never re-open again,” he said.
City officials have been discussing the possibility of closing the jail due to issues of compliance with state regulations and recommended reductions in the inmate population. The jail is located under the Middletown City Building and opened in 1976. The state has recommended housing no more than 34 prisoners. Middletown has budgeted $1.3 million in 2019 to operate the full-service jail. The city is one of five municipalities in Ohio that continue to operate a full-service jail as other communities have facilities for 12-days, 12-hours or 6-hour holding facilities until prisoners are transported to the county jail.
Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 36, which represents the police, agrees with Sherron and is opposed to closing the jail.
Police Chief Rodney Muterspaw said he recommended to City Manager Doug Adkins that the issue be tabled until 2020 so that additional research could be done on the possible impact on the community.
“It’s a hot topic, and has been for the better part of two decades,” Muterspaw said. “Hopefully more research in a year will help us get a better idea of where we’re at. I commend those who spoke tonight for their passion on the topic. They only want what’s best for their city.”
Former Middletown police officer Harvey Poff said he learned of previous discussions about closing the jail from the late Judge Mark Wall four years ago. Poff said he worked at the jail on its first night of operation and said the 36 beds were full by 10 p.m. that night. He said city officials increased the capacity by double-bunking soon afterward.
“I think the community supports the jail,” he said. “Jails are expensive. Public safety is expensive. But you can’t afford to lose the ability to lock up bad guys.”
Bill Becker said he brings a different perspective to the discussion. He served as patrol officer and rose up the ranks to serve as jail commander, police chief, assistant city manager, city manager and city council member.
Becker said it’s not a new issue and there have been many studies about possibly closing the jail that concluded to keep it open.
“We have to continue to make things better,” he said. “The biggest mistake this council could make would be to close that jail.”
Officer Dennis Jordan, FOP Lodge 36 president, said the biggest impact to the community would be the inability to lock up the misdemeanant offenders — those offenses that affect the quality of life such as personal property theft.
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