Shane Szymkowiak, middle, is visited by his niece Chelsy Barker, 14, left, and his sister Shelly Skeels, right, with her child Emily, 3, all of Perrysburg, at the Wood County jail.
PORT CLINTON - It may come as a surprise to the mayor of Toledo, but across northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan, county jails have strict rules governing visits with inmates.
The matter of when, where, and how family and friends may visit with inmates can be a source of frustration for visitors. In Ohio, as long as inmates are allowed 30 minutes a week for visitation, jailers are free to set visiting times. Michigan jails decide individually how much time inmates get with visitors.
"I know it's difficult for families," Ottawa County Sheriff Robert Bratton said. "It's very tough to have a loved one locked up in jail."
Sheriff Bratton ran into a buzzsaw of controversy after Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner was denied access to his stepson in December after arriving near the end of visitation time at the jail in Port Clinton. The mayor's stepson was serving a 90-day DUI sentence.
Visitors to Ottawa County's minimum security jail in Port Clinton are warned against giving drugs, tobacco, and other contraband items to prisoners. Allowed items must be given first to a corrections officer.
The mayor fired off a letter of protest, directed to the sheriff, the mayor of Port Clinton, and the city police department. His missive sparked extensive news coverage of the visitation issue.
The Ohio Bureau of Adult Detention sets the guidelines for jail operations and leaves the details for jailers to implement at Ohio's 91 county and regional jails.
Chuck Bailey, chief of the bureau, said manpower and work schedules dictate how jails handle visiting hours.
"We leave it open for each jail to do what works best for them," said Mr. Bailey, whose bureau falls under the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
Ottawa County Lt. Donald Lochotzki says rule-breaking inmates go downtown and lose some visiting privileges.
"They [inmates] have to get 30 minutes of time per week," he said. "The bottom line is, [jails] have to make the final decisions."
The bureau helps local officials identify and correct deficiencies in their jail facilities or operations and with providing technical resources.
The agency also reviews and approves plans for new facilities and for important additions or alterations to facilities.
An informal survey by The Blade found that the rules in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan are as varied as the jails. Many require visitors to arrive before the posted hours to register and handle formalities required to enter the jail.
Daniel Motylinski, jail administrator for Monroe County, said the 434 inmates in two lockups are allowed 20-minute to 30-minute visitations each week, either on Saturday or Sunday.
Visitors must be on the inmate's approved list, but beyond that, no other reservations are needed, he said.
"It works out, because of all the other things going on during the week," he said.
The Michigan Department of Corrections sets minimum guidelines for jails, and it's up to jailers to make the guidelines fit the local situation, he said.
Monroe County does not allow contact between inmates and visitors.
Facilities such as the multistory Lucas County Corrections Center in downtown Toledo and the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio in Stryker, which each house hundreds of prisoners, prohibit walk-in visitors. Both facilities require appointments.
Lucas County visitors must schedule their visit, while visits to the regional jail are arranged by the inmates through their case managers.
Inmates were previously allowed four 45-minute contact visits a week, but in October, 2005, that was cut to one half-hour visit a week, the state-allowed minimum.
In August, citing security concerns, Lucas County Sheriff James Telb dropped contact visits entirely in favor of video visits.
Ottawa and Wood counties and others allow visitors to show up unannounced during set visiting hours.
"A jail visit is a privilege, not a right," Sheriff Bratton said.
Ottawa County, with 48 beds in its full-service jail and 48 beds in the minimum security lockup, has more flexibility in the length of time visitors can spend with inmates.
Lt. Donald Lochotzki, who is in charge of the two Ottawa County jails, said he aims for 20 minutes for visits but said the time can be shortened to 10 minutes if there is a large group of visitors.
There are no contact visits downtown at the sheriff's office. Prisoners are separated by glass, and conversation is over a telephone.
In the minimum security facility off State Rt. 163, visitors and inmates are allowed to sit in chairs next to each other. Inmates are searched after the visit, Lieutenant Lochotzki said.
The minimum security jail - a 48-bed dormitory-style facility that houses sentenced, nonviolent male and female offenders east of town behind the city-county complex - was opened in 1996 and offers work-release and other programs.
"It's more of a privilege there. If they can't follow the rules, they end up [downtown]," Lieutenant Lochotzki said.
At the Wood County Justice Center on East Gypsy Road, the visitation schedule is blocked out on grids that resemble a high school class schedule.
Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn's lockup southeast of Bowling Green houses nearly three times as many inmates as Ottawa County does in both of its facilities. As a result, more planing is needed for visitation.
Each visiting day Tuesday through Friday has separate times for minimum, medium, and special or maximum security male prisoners. Female prisoners have a separate visitation schedule.
With few exceptions, there is no contact between visitors and inmates in Wood County.
"Attorneys and clergy can visit nearly anytime," Sheriff Wasylyshyn said. Wood County, unlike Ottawa, does not have weekend visitation.
Lucas County warns people that they are subject to checks for outstanding warrants, and those with active warrants will not be allowed inside as a visitor.
Each jail has restrictions on the number and ages of visitors, their relationship to the inmate, behavior, items brought to prisoners, and money allowed for the prison commissary.
Regulations at the Lucas County jail even spell out dress standards to avoid clothing that would signal gang affiliation. Most jails forbid sexually suggestive or inappropriate clothing.
Because of the differences between jails, the state's Mr. Bailey said visitors would be well-served to call the institution first.
"They need to find out what the process is. You want to know what the dates and the rules are and whether you have to preregister," Mr. Bailey said.
Contact Jim Sielicki at:
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