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January hearing set on cutting Lucas Co. jail numbers

Inmate population long above its official capacity

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    An inmate is fingerprinted at the Lucas County jail. Some jail population reduction strat­e­gies im­ple­mented with a $1.75 mil­lion grant from the John D. and Cath­er­ine T. MacArthur Foun­da­tion seem to be work­ing, leaders say.

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    An inmate looks out a window at the Lucas County jail.

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    Judge Zmuda

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A court-appointed monitor who keeps a close eye on the population level at the Lucas County jail wants those working to reduce the jail’s numbers to get together for a progress report.

On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge James Carr granted his request, scheduling a hearing for 2 p.m. Jan. 10 in federal court.

“The Lucas County Jail has held a population substantially above its designed capacity of 378 for decades,” Special Master Timothy Doyle wrote in a recent report to the court. On Thursday evening, there were 385 people being held at the jail.

“Throughout the period, and today — especially with the adoption of the [public safety assessment], and, one hopes, [a] significant increase in the resources allocated to the Pretrial Services Agency — the means are at hand to implement reforms that can reduce the pretrial population substantially,” he wrote.

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An inmate looks out a window at the Lucas County jail.

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Court and sheriff’s officials have touted the county’s new public safety assessment as an effective way to evaluate whether a defendant needs to be held in jail or if he or she can be released and reasonably expected to stay out of trouble and appear for court. 

The new bond tool was designed to ease crowding at the jail, but Mr. Doyle said he’s concerned it’s not working as well as was originally hoped.

He wrote in his report that since February he has been paying special attention to the number of inmates who were recommended for release by the public safety assessment.

“On the average, there are 55 such inmates who spend at least one day in jail and who are recommended for release,” Mr. Doyle wrote. “Thus, it appears that, if judges were giving greater heed to the PSA as it relates to nonviolent felony defendants, the result would be a substantial reduction in the jail population.”

He also pointed to strategies implemented with a $1.75 million grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation that seem to be working, such as a team that meets weekly to review the jail population to determine whether any inmates might be released.

“This process has, at the municipal court level, had some good effect, as it allows the city attorney and a public defender to review cases for early resolution, rather than waiting for the inmate’s court date, which is typically weeks away,” Mr. Doyle wrote.

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Judge Zmuda

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Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Gene Zmuda, who serves as the liaison judge for pretrial services, said he looks forward to updating Mr. Doyle and Judge Carr on the strides that have been made.

“We are managing on a daily, regular basis how many people are in the jail, how many people are at CCNO, and how many people are at work release,” the judge said. “We have a great story to tell about making sure that we’re only holding those people in those institutions that should be held, in the least restrictive environment.”

The special master was appointed in 1978 in the aftermath of a 1970 lawsuit that was filed on behalf of inmates at the jail, who contended that the facility’s conditions were inhumane and unconstitutional. The current jail was subsequently built in about 1977.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.

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