City hopes to force county to take jail prisoners
Council made trick-or-treat an hour earlier because of increased crime.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
CITY HALL REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- The city is preparing to take legal action to force Mahoning County to house city prisoners at the county jail.
City Law Director Iris Guglucello said the three city municipal court judges and Mayor George M. McKelvey asked her to look into remedies to have their sentencings of criminals honored by the county.
Guglucello said she will give her legal opinion to the judges either today or Friday, and one recommendation is to file a writ of mandamus with the state Supreme Court.
A writ of mandamus, she said, would require Sheriff Randall A. Wellington to fulfill his legal obligation to house city prisoners.
"We're looking to see what the county's reaction [to the writ] would be," Guglucello said.
County Prosecutor Paul J. Gains said he doubts the court would approve a writ if the city filed one.
A federal judge ruled the county's main jail, which can hold 564 prisoners, can accommodate only 296 prisoners after inmates won a class-action lawsuit in March. The county's financial problems forced it to reduce the number of deputies at the jail, and because of that, the judge ruled that it would be unconstitutional to have more than 296 prisoners there.
The city has an agreement with the county to pay $75 a day for each city prisoner held at the jail on charges or convictions "for violation of ordinances of the city, and not otherwise held under charges constituting a felony under state law."
McKelvey said at Wednesday's council finance committee meeting that the city has paid its "fair share" to house city prisoners at the county jail. Youngstown is the only municipality in Mahoning County that pays for its prisoners.
"What has changed is Mahoning County is in serious financial trouble, and they are trying to shift obligation burdens to Youngstown," McKelvey said. "There's an effort to deceive the public. We already pay the county sales tax like everyone else, and we pay a per-prisoner fee. Now the county wants us to pay more."
The sheriff's department incorrectly billed the city for years, Gains said. Also, the county is looking at charging the cities of Struthers, Campbell and Canfield for their prisoners.
"If [Youngstown] doesn't like this, let them build their own jail," he said. "Most of the prisoners in the county jail are from Youngstown."
Wellington wants to reopen two housing pods at the male jail to hold 114 misdemeanor inmates. The head of Community Corrections Association wants the county to reopen its 96-bed misdemeanant jail. County commissioners haven't decided between the two proposals.
Because of the county jail situation, crime is up in Youngstown, McKelvey said. It's also why he asked city council to make trick-or-treat in Youngstown from 4 to 6 p.m. Oct. 31, starting and ending an hour earlier than originally planned. Council voted 5-2 in favor of McKelvey's request.
"We've experienced a rash of home invasions and burglaries and the police advise residents not to open their doors in the dark," said McKelvey, who filed a police report saying someone tried to force open his house's front door Sunday.
Councilman Richard Atkinson, R-3rd, said the problem with making trick-or-treat an hour earlier is that Halloween is on a Monday and many people will be at work and not home when it starts.