If Ohio Auditor Jim Petro thinks it's a good idea, then so do we. After all, Petro has gobs of credibility when it comes to analyzing government operations and he has established an impressive record of helping public entities develop solutions to the problems they face.
Thus, when Petro recommends that the Mahoning County commissioners and the sheriff implement a pay-to-stay program for inmates at the Criminal Justice Center, we say, "It's about time." Indeed, the state auditor has given commissioners Edward Reese, Vicki Allen Sherlock and David Ludt and Sheriff Randall Wellington a road map to guide them, and it leads to Allen, Preble, Licking and Wood counties.
What's in those counties? Sheriff's departments that have instituted pay-to-stay programs that are earning their governments between $18,000 and $260,000 a year.
Performance audit report: "Having established a creditable program of its own, Preble County Sheriff's Office could offer suggestions, provide necessary guidance and help MCSO (Mahoning County Sheriff's Office) develop and implement its own pay-to-stay program, and thus, begin recovering incurred incarceration expenses," states the report on the performance audit of Mahoning County government conducted by Petro's office. "MCSO should also consult with other county sheriff offices having a similar prisoner reimbursement program, such as Allen, Licking and Wood County Sheriff's Offices, for further information."
Two years ago, we urged Reese, Sherlock, Ludt and Wellington to resurrect the program that had been started under former Sheriff Phil Chance but had been shelved when it turned out to be a bust. As we pointed out then, anything with Chance's fingerprints on it should have been viewed with suspicion, seeing as how the former sheriff was found guilty of federal racketeering charges stemming from his taking bribes from the Mafia. He is now serving time in federal prison.
But when Wellington became sheriff, we believed that honesty had been restored to county law enforcement and, therefore, urged the reinstatement of the pay-to-stay program.
State auditors contend that if Mahoning County charged inmates a minimum of $12 a day and had a collection rate of just 4 percent, similar to Allen County's, almost $90,000 would be collected.
While Reese, Sherlock and Wellington are eager to get the program back on track, Ludt continues to have misgivings. He argues that most inmates are indigent and would be unable to pay for their incarceration. We would urge him to visit the counties identified by the state auditor and find out how they are able to generate the kind of revenue that makes their programs viable.
Wellington may have an even better idea: Deducting $2 a day from each inmate's commissary account through an in-house program that would utilize software provided by Canteen Service of Steel Valley, which has the food service contract with Mahoning County.
The sheriff says $125,000 a year could be generated. Given Mahoning County's uncertain financial condition, Commissioner Ludt should join his colleagues in making pay-to-stay at the Criminal Justice Center a reality.