Challenging city and county officials to find long-term solutions to the chronic overcrowding problem at the Lucas County jail, a federal judge on Wednesday ordered the jail to reduce its population by 34 inmates by year’s end.
U.S. District Court Judge James Carr said the Lucas County jail must cap its population at 403 inmates by Nov. 20 and reduce that figure to 369 by Dec. 30.
“It’s a partial, interim, short-term, temporary response to the motion,” the judge told the judges, prosecutors, county commissioners, public defenders, and other officials packed into his courtroom.
Two weeks ago, Advocates for Basic Legal Equality Inc. filed a motion on behalf of jail inmates asking Judge Carr to immediately enforce an order issued by the court in 1984 that requires the sheriff to release offenders charged with nonviolent misdemeanors when the jail’s population exceeds 90 percent of its capacity.
“We’re now consistently at 120 percent,” said Aneel Chablani, an ABLE attorney who filed the motion.
The court order, he said, next requires the release of pretrial inmates charged with nonviolent felonies.
The order arose from a civil suit filed in 1970 on behalf of jail inmates against Lucas County commissioners. At that time, the conditions at the county lock-up were not only crowded but, as the court found, inhumane and unconstitutional.
Evy Jarrett, an assistant Lucas County prosecutor, told the court that ABLE had presented no evidence that inmates’ constitutional rights were being violated, but the judge interrupted her saying, “I think we’re past that. There is an order of long standing that sets the maximum capacity.”
She said that before ordering that all nonviolent misdemeanants be released, the court ought to consider the risks to public safety, the corresponding rise in defendants who fail to appear for court, and the possible erosion of a judge’s “ability to set a meaningful bond.”
W. David Arnold, an attorney who spoke on behalf of Toledo Municipal Court judges, argued the judges need the ability to detain pretrial defendants because of the “enormous failure to appear rate.”
“That has a direct effect on the administration of justice and the public’s perception of the administration of justice,” Mr. Arnold said.
Judge Carr said he set the initial population limit at 403 because 403 were inmates housed at the jail — not counting the 50 inmates being held in the booking area — as of 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.
He said he hoped that by giving officials until the end of the year to reduce that number to 369, everyone would have some breathing room to work together on solutions and “get things moving.”
“One message that should be clear: I feel strongly that orders will be upheld,” Judge Carr said.
Mr. Arnold said the municipal court judges would like to implement — and see other courts implement — a population-management plan through which each would be allocated a certain number of beds at the jail and monitor that so they don’t exceed their limit.
Judge Carr urged those involved to come together and consider any and all options for addressing the problem but said he could not order judges to implement a certain plan.
He suggested the city and county look at a telephone-call system to remind defendants of court dates. Such a system could reduce the number of individuals who fail to show up for court, he said, and free up police to do police work rather than round up and book misdemeanants on warrants.
“There’s a better way of doing it,” the judge said. “Let’s figure it out and ultimately resources can be saved.”
Jim Dennis, executive director of the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio near Stryker, said after the hearing that his executive committee board discussed housing pretrial defendants from Lucas County at a special meeting Monday.
“We intend to work with them on whatever their strategy might be,” he said.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: email@example.com or 419-213-2134.
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