GEORGETOWN – Brown County Sheriff Dwayne Wenninger and Chief Deputy Carl Smith met with the Brown County Commissioners on Jan. 4 to discuss implication of not being allotted a variance in bed space at the Brown County Jail.
As the Commissioners and Sheriff have stated, the jail is equipped to handle just 38 inmates at a given time. Any additional inmates would be have be allowed by the Department of Corrections. Wenninger told the Commissioners the Department had been in violation of this during their inspections and faced 34 violations during a previous inspection without getting into details about those violations.
But in order to handle the increased population, the County is faced with the question of where and how to deal with the increase of inmates. The Sheriff and Chief Deputy submitted the idea of a dormitory style housing unit for low-level, non-violent offenders who fit the classification for minimum security.
“There are different things we have been looking at but we are putting everything on the table to see what works best for the citizens of this county,” Smith said. “This jail is designed to hold 38 people, period. We have had more than that in here, by far. We can’t do that, it’s not safe. What we are looking at per the Ohio Revised Code, the Commissioners are able to pick any building in the county, as long as they own it, and fortify that as long as we adhere to the Ohio Revised Code and Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, we can make it into a minimum security facility.”
Smith said the dorm style housing could be something as simple as a space with bunk beds in a gymnasium so long as it met the standards in ORC and from the DOC. Inmates are classified upon entry into the Sheriff’s Office when arrested and their classification would determine if they qualified for the dorm style housing.
“You could have fourth and fifth degree felonies (or lower) held in this type of place,” Smith said. “As long as they go through a classification process. As long as they haven’t shown violent tendency or had any problems in our jail they could become eligible for this type of housing.”
The Department said they are trying to do the best the can to house offenders in Brown County. According to the Sheriff’s Department they spend roughly $35 per day to house inmates in the Adult Detention Center. However, the Commissioners disagree with that number by citing the cost to operate does not include expenses from the jail that do not come from the budget of the Sheriff’s Office.
The Commissioners are planning a jail task force to evaluate the best course of action for Brown County.
The idea of a regional jail has been throw around by both the Commissioners and Sheriff’s Department, citing the states has monies available to build a regional jail. The Commissioners hope the task force can evaluate the best course of action from practicality as well as financially for the residents of the county.
Smith said building a new jail to serve only Brown County could help curb the need for an increase number of inmates, citing the 75 inmates housed at the Butler County Jail from Brown County on Jan 4, but the Commissioners raised concerns of how to pay for a larger jail and questioned why Butler County had so many beds available at the time if there was a need for a larger facilities statewide.
Smith, a member of the law enforcement community for over three decades, said the increased number of offenders spurn from the increased drug problem the county in facing. He said while there has always been a drug problem, it is far worse now than when he started in Brown County in 1987.
He said at that time the jail population could be around 25 to 30 inmates now it regularly exceeded 70 inmates daily in the jail. On average, 160 offenders per month made their way through the Brown County Adult Detention Center. The problem all comes back to the drug epidemic.
“There isn’t a town in Brown County you can’t buy heroin in,” Smith said. “They might have to go out of town to get it, but you can buy it here or any surrounding county.”
In June, Smith conducted his own study of the population of the county jail and noted 27 percent of all male inmates were in jail for drug related offenses only, but did not count other offenses such as burglary and robberies with a high likelihood of drug involvement. On the female side, 52 percent of the inmates were incarcerated for drug only offenses.
While the jail situation plays out and taxpayers focus on the cost on operations for the facility, the larger looming drug problem goes unsolved. While housing offenders in the immediate need, eliminating offenders reduces the need for a jail.