Guest blog post from Chief of Middletown Police Rodney Muterspaw on the future of the Middletown jail:
Two years or so ago, we started really looking at how to reduce jail costs, and potentially a solution to house prisoners elsewhere in the event we had closure of the jail due to state restrictions or budget constraints. Timelines were never presented in stone, but we looked at possibly 2021-2022 as a benchmark date. Our current jail budget is about $1.3 million (a small increase from last year). Staffing in the jail is at a minimum. We have not hired for relief factors simply because we cannot get jail applicants (last testing process in Fall 2018 we had four applicants, as opposed to 60+ applicants in 2009) and due to potential state closure down the road we did not want to burden newer employees with the stress of that. Simply put, those that built this jail in the 1970’s did not consider expansion at all. It was built underground, under a parking lot, next to two main city streets with heavy traffic. There is no way to comply with ongoing and changing state standards with what we have now. Obviously those state standards and legal precedents were not a part of jail procedures or policies when this one was built about 45 years ago.
We started meeting with the court a few years ago. These informal meetings were for discussion of reduction of housed inmates and to find a common solution that would benefit both parties. Currently the court pays no money toward our jail budget, however, the court has agreed to work with us to reduce prisoners in our jail. It has been a slow process, but they have done a great job. We have budgeted for 40 prisoners maximum in 2019. We cannot go over this or we go over budget and puts us in a financial crisis. This is a huge drop compared to the past when we would house up to 70 or 80 prisoners. That was a choice that was made in population placement years ago. We have seen it at over 90 with triple bunked inmates. The state, litigation issues and safety requirements simply will not allow us to even consider that anymore. Times have changed and we are abiding by those requirements.
We have met with the Butler County Sheriff’s Office in October to ask for an increase in allotted bed space for Middletown prisoners. We have not heard back yet, but if our officers charge under state code, the burden would then fall on the county, as well as a change in the fund disbursement. Adding beds at the county would free some of the worry from our officers in the event they need to make an arrest and we have no room at the jail. The Sheriff’s Office has been a friend to Middletown, working with us for whatever we need, but they need to ensure they not only have room, but that it fits their budget as well. We don’t want to make massive changes without their input or readiness; that is bad business. The solution we would look at if it worked out is to charge under state code for any prisoner over 40 in 2019, therefore, it would fall to the county. Since our jail is not a requirement, as the county is, they would assume the role of housing our prisoners under state code if compatible within the law.
Two huge decisions have come into play recently to make a monumental change in our jail policies. These are game changers and totally out of city or police control. First, our staff medical doctor has implemented a policy that requires our officers to take any intoxicated person to the hospital before admittance into the jail, for liability reasons. This policy changes things dramatically with street staffing. It adds transports to Kettering Medical or the Atrium before even bringing them to the jail. This adds an extra estimated hour to each arrest, pulling that officer off the street. Our jail commander has researched and this has become standard practice across Ohio for medical staffs within jails due to liability and malpractice. Even if we switched doctors, others would most likely do the same.
But an even bigger decision is now the state jail inspection team has recommended us to minimize the jail population to 32-34 maximum. That is even less than we had anticipated. It is a big change for us in dealing with arrestees. State and medical jail policies have changed quite a bit and we have no choice but to change with it. The change in policy and requirements since the 1980’s and 90’s are drastically different. County and State jails and prisons are required under law to fund facilities, which are then covered under certain mandates to ensure long term success. Simply stated, we are not.
We are going to a more summons, book & release approach to non-violent arrests at this time, like every other agency does. This is pretty much what agencies all over Ohio do without jails. There are about 250 cities in Ohio; 248 do not have jails. Since we are one of the last two municipalities with a jail in Ohio, everyone else has already began using this approach in enforcing ordinances and state law. Violent and felony type arrests will still go to the jail through Butler and Warren County. The downside to this is transports – like every other agency does. We would need to figure out a simple way to transport prisoners after arrest without pulling officers off the street for long periods of time. We do have several ideas and solutions to that we are currently working on with staff – including hiring part-time transport personnel to take the burden off of patrol. Patrol officers working a beat simply cannot do transports constantly and maintain a fully staffed patrol in Middletown. We need officers on the street working a beat or assigned to detectives working cases. We believe we can succeed with transport officers if necessary to help alleviate that problem.