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MAHONING COUNTY 2 options to address jail space considered

Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Either plan would require additional funding.
YOUNGSTOWN -- The chief executive officer at Community Corrections Association wants Mahoning County to reopen the misdemeanant jail rather than two housing pods at the main jail.
Richard J. Billak said Tuesday that the 96-bed misdemeanant jail on Commerce Street could operate for $38 per day per inmate, roughly $1.3 million annually. He said the cost would include deputy sheriffs, food, utilities and CCA programs, such as classes for GED, anger management, substance abuse and more.
A federal judge has capped the main jail's population at 296; it can hold 564. The judge is remedying conditions at the main jail on Fifth Avenue in response to a class-action lawsuit won by inmates in March.
Billak said the original intent of the misdemeanant jail was to house sentenced inmates and he'd like to see it used for that purpose again. The inmates -- convicted of theft, domestic violence, driving under suspension, DUI and so forth -- would be sentenced to the jail by municipal and county court judges.
Billak said the 96 beds could be allocated to the judges who could then trade among themselves beds they're not using at any given time.
Sheriff Randall A. Wellington, however, wants to reopen two housing pods at the main jail for presentenced and sentenced misdemeanor inmates at a cost of $666,490 annually. Two pods can hold 114 inmates.
Using the sheriff's figures, contained in a report to the federal judge, the daily rate per inmate would be $16 for two pods at the main jail. Billak said he questions the cost figures, which are, in part, based on fewer deputies at the main jail's pods vs. the number needed at the misdemeanant jail.
Under consideration
Either plan, whether opening the misdemeanant jail or two pods at the main jail, requires additional funds. County commissioners, faced with revenue shortfalls due to a failed half-cent sales tax, are considering the proposals.
Billak said if two pods are opened for presentenced or sentenced misdemeanants, the current emergency inmate release plan established by common pleas judges would have to be revamped. As it stands, only those accused of crimes of violence are held in the jail to keep the population at 296.
The release policy would have to make allowances for those serving a sentence for misdemeanor crimes.
Billak said the misdemeanant jail is better designed for CCA programs because it has classrooms. He noted that, between 1998 and 2005, 276 inmates received their GED, a 76-percent passage rate.
Mayor's take
Youngstown Councilman Artis Gillam Sr., who heads the legislative body's safety committee, and Mayor George M. McKelvey said they support opening two pods to the county jail.
"I've encouraged them to open as many pods at the jail as necessary to address the crime issue in the community," McKelvey said.
The city has an agreement with the county to pay $75 a day for each city prisoner. Gillam and McKelvey said city officials have rejected requests from the county to pay more than that.
"We want criminals off the street," said Gillam, D-1st. "But we don't want to pay double taxes. Just like everyone else in the county, we pay the county sales tax that funds the jail."
A city prisoner is defined as someone "accepted for booking or judicially ordered or sentenced to incarceration in the Mahoning County jail for violation of ordinances of the city, and not otherwise held under charges constituting a felony under state law."
"We'll live up to our obligation," Gillam said. "If someone is incarcerated for violating city ordinances, we pay for it. If they're not incarcerated under our city codes, then the city doesn't pay for it. We're not going to change that."
XContributors: Vindicator staff writers Patricia Meade and David Skolnick.