XENIA — Greene County officials have begun discussing a new jail.
Common Pleas Judges Stephen Wolaver and Michael Buckwalter, Fairborn Municipal Court Judge Beth Cappelli, Sheriff Gene Fischer, Maj. Kirk Keller and the county commissioners met Jan. 30 to assess needs for a potential future facility.
“None of the commissioners are implying that we’re going to build a jail tomorrow morning or next year or five years or whatever — that’s what the needs assessment is going to be about and it’s going to lay that groundwork as we go forward,” Commissioner Tom Koogler said. “We need to have a plan in place so when the time and whatever trigger mechanism that says we need to have a new jail or a remodeled jail then we’ll have it available.”
The judges in the room talked about how sentencing jail time versus prison time has changed over the years, based on higher crime rates, grants with standard requirements, and new legislation.
“We revisit the concept of who should be in jail … the idea not so much what the crime is itself since they start with a presumption of innocence … but more of a risk assessment,” Wolaver said.
A house bill passed in 2011 changed legislation, stating that if an individual does not have a record, the crime is non-violent and it is his/her first felony, the court cannot impose a prison sentence, Wolaver explained. He also explained that certain grants have standards attached to them, which, for example, reduces the number of individuals with third- and fourth-degree felonies sent to prison.
“That requires us to make a decision on cases where the person might be sent to prison traditionally but we’re looking at it differently … sometimes we use the jail sanction as a penalty and so now we’re doing things that we used to not do,” Wolaver said. “We are looking more toward putting a person in a local jail for a period of time to be their punishment. I like to think we are still very cautious, we don’t do that on an every day basis and it’s not our go-to method but it is happening.”
“We try to prioritize, triage what we think is the best for the public,” Buckwalter added.
Cappelli agreed that the prison population is moving to the counties.
“I’d be remissed if I didn’t recognize that now the local jails are the prisons,” she said.
Cappelli suggested bail/bond reform, which would mean the courts would share a person to look at people first entering the jail on a daily basis, including interviewing the person, completing a risk assessment and giving a recommendation for a bond.
“I would suggest, if you are looking at a new facility, think of it not as a cost but as an investment in our community looking at what they can do while they’re there,” she added, suggesting various programs.
Keller, who runs the jail, spoke about “transformational corrections,” meaning taking a holistic approach “to build what is right and what is necessary.”
“As you assess who needs to come and when they come, then we have a job to do in providing custody and care for those persons that come to us,” Keller said.
He added that an overcrowded jail just create problems in providing inmate care.
“Under the current system of justice what we’re doing is we’re sentencing offenders to time. That’s what we do. Time by itself only changes a calendar. It doesn’t do a thing to change the person. And I think as we talk about investing in people for the sake of building a better community, we have to invest in the individual,” he said.
“If we apply targeted programming to the individual, I believe that for several — many — we can at least as the conduit through corrections start seeing some of the transformation we want to see in people,” he continued. “The point is that once they’re in there, if they’re just doing time — we’re not helping them, we’re not helping the community.”
The group discussed programming for mental health and alcohol and drugs, GED classes, 24-hour nursing, anger management sessions, mentoring, and giving rewards for success and behavior modification.
“In a jail you’ve got to meet the basic needs before that transformation can take place,” Keller said.
Neither facility design nor a proposed timeline came up during the morning work session, which officials said would be the first of a series, but the sheriff commented that the project would need to incorporate the whole division’s office — meaning combining all sections under one roof.
“In the facility design we’ve got to think about programming and not just beds to do time,” Keller said in closing. “Otherwise I don’t think we’re investing wisely.”
Contact Anna Bolton at 937-502-4498 or follow @annadbolton on Facebook.