EATON —A larger jail facility may be Preble County’s future. County commissioners are working with the Preble County Sheriff’s Office to investigate the needs and costs associated with building a major expansion to the jail.
At a Wednesday, July 6, commission meeting, discussion turned to the ongoing difficulty of housing an overabundance of female inmates in the county jail, which was designed to hold a maximum of 10 women at once. The surplus of female inmates are sent to Mercer County’s jail, at a daily cost of $45 each. The month of June saw 39 females booked in Preble County — a 65 percent increase over May’s tally, according to Sheriff Michael Simpson. The county spent $7,965 in June to outsource prisoners to Mercer County, as well as $366.87 in medical costs for the month.
Simpson said the majority of arrests in the county are made for drug-related offenses.
“With this drug problem,” said Commissioner Chris Day, “We always say we can’t arrest our way out of it, but we don’t have a lot of options because these people are still out here committing crimes and our hands are tied. If this trend continues, we could be looking at $75,000 to $100,000 a year housing inmates outside the county.”
Simpson said, “Even if you put it in round numbers and say $7,000 a month, if we had five inmates there every month, that’s $84,000 — plus medical.”
“I hate to say it,” said Day, “but at some point, we’ve got to pay for a new facility. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not for increasing facility space or spending — but I don’t know what else to do, and eventually the other counties aren’t going to have room. Mercer’s in a pretty good position at this point, but that could go away tomorrow.”
Options are slim to none in other neighboring counties, as well; Montgomery County is regularly filled to capacity, said Simpson, while Darke and other counties also outsource to Mercer. Butler County regularly has available space in its jail, but charges $75 per inmate, per day, nearly twice the fee paid to house inmates at Mercer County’s facility.
Commissioner Denise Robertson asked whether house arrest might be an option, but was advised that even house arrest comes with caveats. The electronic bracelets worn by house arrest inmates and the maintenance and monitoring thereof have costs.
“And if you have a drug offender that’s not really an option,” said commissioner Rodney Creech. “You’ve gotta look at the crime they’ve offended and their ability to reoffend inside their home. It’s not solving an issue by sending a heroin addict back to their house.”
He also added that many heroin addicts in the county are homeless, adding another layer of difficulty to the house arrest option.
Part of the issue, said Simpson, is that when heroin addicts are brought into the jail, they are administered Vivitrol, a drug that can help prevent relapses into drug or alcohol abuse. Vivitrol requires that the patient’s system be free of toxins, which means that an inmate must be held for 14 days to become eligible for the Vivitrol shot. Inmates taking up bed space in the jail for two weeks or more while awaiting a clean bill of health then prevent new arrests from being housed in that space.
“This fall,” said Simpson, “it’ll be 22 years since we moved into this jail, and I never would’ve dreamed we’d be having to figure out every month where we’re going to put inmates, let alone female inmates. When we first opened, we were busy if we had five or six women booked in.”
“I think we have two options,” he said. “We continue to do what we’re doing, [or] we build onto the jail.”
“If we’re going to add on to the jail,” Creech said, “you’d want to try to predict the future and add on enough that you’d be able to house inmates from outside counties, I assume, and generate some revenue.”
Simpson replied, “If you could generate revenue off that extra bed space, you should look at doing it. Mercer County’s doing it, and making $7,000 a month off us.”
“And I think it’s safe to say the population’s going to increase,” Creech said.
“I don’t think it’s going to decrease,” said Simpson.
Creech urged the board to look at current inmate trends and then expand with an eye toward estimating what the numbers might be in 10 or 15 years. Day pointed out the increasing amount of newborns being taken from parents and placed into custody of the county because the infants are born with heroin addictions.
“If this is a generational thing,” Creech said, “then we haven’t seen anything yet, and in 15 or 18 years, our [inmate] population’s going to be beyond anything we can imagine right now.”
Day suggested that Sheriff Simpson contact firms that have a history of building jails in the state of Ohio and are familiar with state standards, and commission studies from them to see what possibilities are available and get an idea of potential costs. “We need to be on the forefront of this, because it’s not going away,” he said.
“And every year,” said Creech, “we’re paying a hundred grand that’s not going toward bricks and mortar, and that’s not including transportation costs, either.”
Day agreed: “And transportation, vehicle maintenance, wear and tear, life of the vehicle…”
“Liability,” Creech added.
“Time away from the office,” Robertson said.
“Cost of a transportation officer,” Day said.
“And while he’s making a Mercer County run,” Simpson said, “we’ve got stuff here someone else has got to cover.”
“If you don’t have Mercer County, you still have to put them somewhere,” Day said. “You can’t stack them up, you can’t put them on a shelf. Each one needs a bed, and we’ve run out of room.”
“And if Mercer County was full,” Creech said, “and we had to house in Butler, our cost would almost double. So, if you’re doing a study, you really have to use the $75 a day figure instead of the $45 because you want to go ‘worst case scenario.’ And whoever builds a big enough jail first wins.”
“I think there are only two options,” he said. “We either lease or buy.”
Reach Duante Beddingfield at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @duanteb_RH.