Hundreds fewer people are being booked into the Clark County Jail compared to five years ago and jail officials and Clark County judges are working together to keep that population down.
So far in 2019, just more than 3,500 people have been booked into the Clark County Jail. That’s about 700 fewer than were booked into the Clark County Jail in 2014, according to Clark County Sheriff’s Office statistics obtained by the Springfield News-Sun.
Also so far in 2019, the average length of stay in jail is significantly down even compared to last year. In 2018, the average stay for an inmate was 26 days, according to the sheriff’s office statistics. In 2019, the average stay has been just over 19 days.
Fewer people in jail means fewer expenses on the taxpayer, Clark County Sheriff Deborah Burchett said. It costs about $55 a day to jail an inmate because it costs money to feed, lodge and medically treat them.
According to the sheriff’s office data, about 62% of inmates in custody are charged with a felony while the rest are charged with misdemeanors. Inmates in the Clark County Jail are overwhelmingly male.
The drop in the number of people in custody also makes the jail safer for inmates and deputies.
Burchett said here are two major reasons for the reduction in the jail’s population: drugs and a working relationship with Clark County judges.
“I really believe one reason the jail numbers are down is that your overdoses are down,” Burchett said. “The deaths have gone down and the use is down and I believe that’s one reason our numbers are down in jail. You’re not getting as many people as we did before with the drugs.”
“The other reason is we have worked with the judges,” the sheriff said. ” I can call them up and say ‘hey can you help us out a little bit because we are overcrowding.’ When you’re overcrowding you have fights, you have irritability. They don’t get along.”
Clark County Municipal Court Judge Thomas Trempe said his process of sentencing suspects hasn’t changed much over the 16 years he’s been on the bench. But, he does look through the jail roster daily to see who’s in jail.
“Over the years I have seen a good working relationship between the sheriff and the municipal staff and dealing with these matters,” Trempe said. “When things have gotten into a pinch, there have been instances when there were some things we can do to delay sentencing for a short period of time to help the jail.
Burchett said she would be ecstatic if the daily jail population fell around 150 inmates. Right now that number is closer to 200, the statistics show, and the sheriff says that’s still too high.
“We can operate like normal with our current numbers but it could always be better,” Burchett said.
And it could also be worse. In 2017, the daily jail population was 225 inmates and in 2018 there was 234.
“When we get to 200 that’s when we get scared,” Burchett said. “That’s when you have fights and things can get dangerous. When you have to put all the people in the same pod together. Also, I have to protect my deputies too. I have to provide protection for the inmates but also my deputies.”
Burchett said she checks the jail log four or five times a day to see how many inmates are in custody. In the past, when the numbers get up around 250 inmates in jail, the sheriff’s office has to open up the trailers.
“I really don’t like to open those,” she said. “For one it costs the county more money because we have to have a deputy down there but also I feel it’s insecure and unsafe for that deputy.”
The sheriff also said the working conditions in the trailer area are not ideal as the deputy isn’t in the building and there are no restrooms.
Like the sheriff, Trempe keeps the jail count on his desk and is constantly reminded about who’s in custody.
“What we try to do is talk with the sheriff’s office and jail administration staff because from time to time the population is high,” Trempe said.
Trempe said sending someone to jail is a serious decision and he must take into account many factors. Community resources are on the list, but protecting the public and being fair to both the state and the defendant are priorities.
Officials in Columbus are discussing major bail reform including how judges utilize money when setting bail. The fear is that residents with lower-incomes are more susceptible to longer jail stays than their well-to-do counterparts — even though sometimes their crimes are the same.
A study conducted by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction found 35.4 percent of local jail inmates have not been convicted of a crime, but are awaiting trial. In most cases, the study found, the inmates are being held because they could not afford bond.
Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor said recently the concern is real.
“No one in America should be sent to jail, or threatened with jail, solely because they are poor. In too many instances, judges are ignoring fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution, while local politicians treat the court system as an ATM for their spending priorities. This must change, and this task force is committed to taking steps to ensure justice for all.”
Burchett said inmates do not get lost in the system here as they might in bigger counties because the jail population here is smaller.
“Most of the people we have in our jail are felons or facing felonies and a lot of them don’t have the money because their bails are large and they should be,” Burchett said. “They shouldn’t be out on the streets. Now with the misdemeanors, we keep a lot of them for long and we are going through the logs daily see if they can get out.”
Bail reform bills are being discussed in the Ohio Senate. Springfield Rep. Kyle Koehler said that he hasn’t seen the final bill and therefore can’t make a determination as to whether he will support it. But he did say that he wants local judges to have power so that they can make the right decision on a case-by-case basis.
Koehler said that he belives local judges have saved lives because they’ve had the ability to control bail and he will continue to work with local judges before he gives his support to a bill.
“I know that every case is different, in the end, I have talked with and trust our judges,” he said. “I am relying on input from the local judges.”
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