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Wellington: If tax fails, some violent inmates will go free



Published: Tue, April 5, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The sheriff and other officials met with the jail's newly appointed special master.

YOUNGSTOWN -- Once the release of 135 more inmates is complete, the Mahoning County jail will be down to about 300 violent offenders, some of whom will be released unless a half-cent sales tax passes in May, the sheriff says.

Monday, Sheriff Randall A. Wellington, along with the county prosecutor and county commissioners met with Toledo attorney Vincent M. Nathan, who is serving as special master for the jail. Nathan is acting as a fact-finder for U.S. District Judge David D. Dowd Jr., who is taking steps to make the understaffed and formerly overcrowded jail constitutionally sound.

With the layoff of deputies, inmates accused of misdemeanor crimes are being released and floors at the main jail on Fifth Avenue closed. Fifty deputies are laid off with another 62 expected to be laid off effective Sunday and possibly more later this year, the sheriff has said.

Already released

A press release, sent out after Monday's meeting, states 124 nonviolent inmates have been released so far and another 135 will be released. The jail would then house around 300 violent offenders.

"The sheriff, commissioners and prosecutor are all convinced that failure to pass the half-percent sales tax on May 3 will definitely result in the release of violent offenders into the community, as more deputies will be laid off and there will continue to be insufficient funds to operate a constitutionally sound jail," the press release states.

Nathan was apprised by county officials of the importance of keeping the violent offenders incarcerated for the safety of the community and that the tax will be on the ballot, the press release says.

The main jail, with a full staff, is permitted to house 564 inmates. The misdemeanant jail on Commerce Street, now closed, can house 96 inmates.

Wellington has said he wanted to eventually reduce the jail population to 140 inmates, with those accused of violent offenses farmed out to other counties' jails. Those being released to the streets now fall into a 13-step procedure developed by common pleas judges.

Monday, the sheriff said that, on instructions from the special master, he couldn't comment on inmate numbers or movement.

If the sales tax passes, revenue would not be available until January. The tax generates about $13 million a year and helps fund county departments.

An earlier story said Nathan's pay was likely $40 to $60 per hour. The pay rate has since increased, but how much he will receive is unknown at this time.




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