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Published: Sunday, 3/23/2003

Lucas County focuses on jail space

BY DALE EMcH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Jermaine Edwards reads a paper in a cell at the Lucas County Jail. The cell was decorated by the previous inmate. Jermaine Edwards reads a paper in a cell at the Lucas County Jail. The cell was decorated by the previous inmate.
ALLAN DETRICH Enlarge

After five days in the Lucas County jail's booking area, unable to shower or brush his teeth, Tony Sanders was ready to move to a cellblock.

But when the move finally came, it provided little relief.

He found 17 people crammed into a 12-person unit and cots scattered around the floor to deal with the overflow.

“Going [five] days without being able to shower or brush your teeth, that's bad,” said Sanders, 32, of 2839 Scottwood Ave., who is charged with violating his parole for robbery and various traffic offenses.

The chronic overcrowding at the jail has county commissioners talking about whether it is time to replace the inefficient, 26-year-old facility.

On Tuesday, commissioners passed a capital budget that dedicated $500,000 toward the planning of a new jail or a substantial renovation to the old one. The county has spent $107,000 for a study on the issue that was completed in August.

“I think we've probably reached that critical juncture where we have to look at not only modification, but we need to come to grips with the fact that we need a new facility,” Harry Barlos, president of the commissioners, said.

Jermaine Edwards, left, and Antwuan Lawson are seated on their cots as Tony Sanders reads a paper. Jermaine Edwards, left, and Antwuan Lawson are seated on their cots as Tony Sanders reads a paper.
ALLAN DETRICH Enlarge

Commissioner Maggie Thurber, who joined the board at the beginning of the year, agreed that attention to the issue is “long overdue.”

With estimates for a new jail reaching as high as $50 million, Ms. Thurber said the project would take precedence over things such as building an arena in the Marina District, as some have urged the county to do.

“Given the construction of a jail or the construction of an arena, obviously we have an obligation to the jail first,” Ms. Thurber said.

Proponents of a new jail say the need is driven by overcrowding that sometimes results in as many as 550 people wedged into a facility that has a capacity of 419.

The jail operates under a federal court order that dictates when and which prisoners must be released when the population reaches certain levels. But the overcrowding is so common that releases are constant, Rick Keller, corrections administrator at the jail, said.

The overcrowding leads to a revolving-door policy in which people charged with nonviolent misdemeanors are released as soon as they're booked into the pretrial facility.

Because the jail does not house sentenced prisoners, a new jail likely would not affect the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio in Stryker, a regional facility that houses people convicted of misdemeanor and low-level felony offenses, John Alexander, the county's chief of staff, said. Nonetheless, Mr. Alexander said a committee studying the project will examine the possibility of dedicating some beds in a new or expanded facility to housing sentenced inmates.

“You only have so many beds, so you can't hold everyone that's arrested,” Mr. Keller said. “But even [with the releases], we're overpopulated.”

Rick Keller, corrections administrator at the Lucas County Jail, says while releases are constant, there are still only so many beds in the facility. Rick Keller, corrections administrator at the Lucas County Jail, says while releases are constant, there are still only so many beds in the facility.
ALLAN DETRICH Enlarge

That overcrowding leads to people like Mr. Sanders being held for four or five days in the booking area, which is designed for eight-hour stays.

On the second through sixth floors of the pretrial facility, units are so crowded that not everyone has their own cell, forcing some to sleep on cots that are scattered haphazardly on the floor.

Such conditions lead to tension among inmates, said Shawn Belcher, 27, of 237 Field Ave., who is being held on drug abuse and controlled substances charges.

“Sometimes people don't get along, so you have to separate them,” Mr. Belcher said from his unit in the southwest quadrant of the fifth floor of the jail.

Antwuan Lawson, 21, of 1020 Prospect Ave., who is charged with trafficking of a controlled substance, drug abuse, and resisting arrest, has his own tiny cell with a bed, toilet, and sink. Five overflow inmates sleep on the floor of a common area and share one toilet that's surrounded by puddles of water and a soaked newspaper.

“It's nasty,” Mr. Lawson said, pulling back a sheet that's been hung up for privacy.

The study that the county received in August said a new jail, though costly, could pay for itself over 14 years because it would be more efficient. The way the current jail is configured, guards are needed to watch separate corners of the jail, which holds prisoners on all six floors.

A new design could allow for fewer guards to do the same work and would ease the overcrowding concerns, according to the report by Poggemeyer Design Group of Bowling Green.



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