A proposed change in the state budget bill dictating all fifth-degree felony incarcerations be served locally has brought on a barrage of criticism from local leaders – most recently Highland County Sheriff Donnie Barrera, who said Wednesday the Highland County Jail is already over capacity and not ready for an increase.
Barrera said in a Highland County Board of Commissioners meeting Wednesday morning that there were 83 inmates incarcerated at the jail, but later told the Times-Gazette the jail booked another inmate in the afternoon, bringing the number to 84, 12 more than the jail was intended to hold.
According to Barrera, 26 of those inmates are women housed in an area designed for 15. The additional prisoners sleep on mats on the floor, Barrera said.
Barrera told The Times-Gazette there was a point last year when there were 94 inmates housed at the jail.
“We don’t like to do that,” he said, adding that such a situation is generally temporary because the number fluctuates from day to day as prisoners are processed in and out.
Highland County Common Pleas Judge Rocky Coss recently said he received communication from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction saying it will offer $19 million the first fiscal year covered by the budget, and $39 million in the second for inmate housing expenses. Locally, Coss said that equates to about $23 per day per inmate – less than half the average daily cost of inmate housing in Highland County, which is about $55.
Barrera said in the event the Highland County Jail is forced to send inmates elsewhere, the cost goes up to around $70 per day.
“It could be pretty devastating to Highland County when it comes to housing inmates,” Barrera told The Times-Gazette.
Commissioner Terry Britton said Wednesday that Highland County Board of Commissioners President Shane Wilkin and Coss – both of whom have been critical of the amendment – will “plead their case” at an Ohio County Commissioners Association meeting next Tuesday.
Britton said the bill is still in the lobbying process, and it will be several months before it is passed one way or another.
Currently, according to the Ohio Revised Code, a fifth-degree felony can bring on a prison term of six to 12 months. The proposed amendment, underlined on page 725 of the 3,512-page state budget, House Bill 49, states that fifth-degree felony incarceration sentences – with the exception of violent or sex offenses, or similar prior convictions – must be served in a county and/or municipal facility, rather than at an Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction facility. If the budget is approved with the amendment included as is, the change would take effect July 1, 2018.
In another item from the commissioners’ meeting, Penny Dehner, associate director of the Paint Valley Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board, officially told commissioners the board will put another levy on the ballot in May.
Dehner said the proposed 1-mill, 10-year property tax levy would generate an estimated $4.6 million annually and cost the owner of a $100,000 property approximately $35 per year.
As previously reported by the Times-Gazette, the ADAMH Board tried the same levy last year in the November general election in Highland, Fayette, Pickaway, Pike and Ross counties. Voters in those five counties cast 52,526 votes against the levy and 40,378 votes for it.
The levy was defeated in all five counties, but was most soundly defeated in Highland County by a vote of 11,451 against it and 6,389 for it.
In 2012, voters passed 1-mill, 10-year ADAMH levy, but Dehner said those funds are no longer enough to cover the services needed.
The Paint Valley ADAMH board provides a variety of drug, alcohol and mental health recovery services in Highland Fayette, Pickaway, Pike and Ross counties.
Commissioners also approved several financial resolutions and went into executive session for a pre-audit conference.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.