Response to “Task Force to evaluate true cost of inmate confinement”

Dear Editor,

I am the staff representative from the FOP, Ohio Labor Council, Inc. that represents the men and women of the Brown County Sheriff’s Office. I am responding to the article posted February 10 entitled, “Task Force Set to Evaluate True Cost on Inmate Confinement”.

I would like to address the Jail/Criminal Justice Task Force that is tasked with looking at all aspects of what it takes to operate a jail, the courts and policing in Brown County. The article indicates that two members were assigned to look into the jail operation. If I were a citizen of Brown County, I would ask why a representative from the Brown County Sheriff’s Office wasn’t included on this Task Force from its inception. A county sheriff, by statute, is responsible for servicing the courts (which includes serving documents filed in court), running a jail (including transporting prisoners), and provides law enforcement service in unincorporated areas (311 Ohio Revised Code). Shouldn’t there be input from someone who knows what it takes to run a jail? Had there been a representative from the Sheriff’s Office included on the task force, it might be mentioned that the Sheriff’s nearly three million dollar budget comes from the same General Fund as utilities, health insurance, PERS, liability insurance and maintenance.

There is also the issue of the twelve corrections officers that are working despite the jail being closed. Anyone who has visited the Sheriff’s Office knows that when they walk in the facility, there is an employee behind the window that greets them. In addition to this responsibility, the employee answers incoming calls, opens doors for employees and answers teletypes from other agencies; that employee is a corrections officer. This position is manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This accounts for four of the twelve employees in question; the remaining eight corrections officers (two per shift), cover the holding cells. Some may ask if there is a need and the answer, quite simply, is yes. Butler County (which is where the inmates from Brown County are currently being housed), requires all inmates brought to their facility be booked IN and OUT at the originating agency. In addition, officers are needed to watch those that are temporarily housed in holding cells. Lastly, those who are certified peace officers are also used at times for transportation and hospital details so as not to take a deputy off the road. Had a representative of the Sheriff’s Office been on the Task Force, these facts would be known.

A reference was made regarding the Clinton County Jail and its 88-bed facility. I happen to represent those corrections officers as well. While I agree that the Clinton County facility is top notch and the Clinton County Sheriff demands professionalism and therefore operates a model facility, the fact is twenty corrections officers along with a Lieutenant Jail Administrator and Sergeant Assistant Jail Administrator are specifically assigned to the operation of the jail. No matter how many inmates a jail can hold, a sufficient number of employees are needed to provide for the safety of those inmates and security.

The article indicated “It is my belief, as of today, unless we make major changes, we need to get out of the jail business,” Hall said to the Task Force. “At $140 per day, it’s not what I want to do, but the new sheriff and unions aren’t willing to work with us the only option I see is to shut her down. We can’t operate at $140 per day (per inmate). Even if we get the State to say ‘you can double bunk’, you’re still at $70 per inmate per day.” Again, the Sheriff, by statute, is required to run a jail. Although I am not a Brown County resident, I know Sheriff Dwayne Wenninger has been and remains to be the Brown County Sheriff; there is no new sheriff. Finally, it is a mischaracterization of facts to say the union is unwilling to work with this Task Force. To date, NO ONE from the County Board of Commissioners, the Sheriff’s Office or the Task Force has reached out to me to discuss options. The membership representatives and I would welcome the opportunity.

Respectfully,

Mark A. Scranton

FOP, Ohio Labor Council staff representative pens letter