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COUNTY JAIL Group to discuss and form new plan



Published: Wed, August 24, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Talk about the role each group member's department plays is important.

By ROGER G. SMITH

COURTHOUSE REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County Commissioners took a first step suggested by the special master overseeing the troubled Mahoning County jail: Get organized.

Commissioner John McNally IV on Tuesday convened a working group of county officials to discuss and prepare a written remedial plan for the jail.

The group is made up of county officials suggested earlier this month by Vincent M. Nathan, the special master monitoring the jail. Members include McNally; officials from the common pleas and county courts; city municipal court; the sheriff, prosecutor and auditor; and Community Corrections Association, a halfway house.

Those are the main players in the process, McNally said.

Could change based on need

The group's size or makeup may change as the process moves ahead. Additional or different officials might be needed to solve the overcrowding problem, he said. Representatives from departments such as the alcohol and drug board and county data processing may need to become involved, he said. The group, however, can't become too large and unmanageable, McNally said.

The group was to pick a chairman and establish time frames for reporting to the special master. Most importantly, however, McNally said, the group was to talk about the role each person's department plays in the justice system.

Interaction among departments is vital to fixing one of the end results of the justice system: the jail, McNally said.

Routine actions such as continuances of court cases to the special emergency release mechanism in place to prevent jail overcrowding have domino effects that all county officials must understand, McNally said.

"One of the first things we need to understand is how this affects everybody," he said. "It's going to be a lot of educating people back and forth."

Nathan, the special master, suggested the group's goal should be to have a plan ready by year's end. Interim reports should be filed by Oct. 1 and Nov. 15, he said.

Nathan is acting as a fact finder for U.S. District Judge David D. Dowd Jr., who is taking steps to make the overcrowded and understaffed jail constitutionally sound. Judge Dowd appointed Nathan after inmates won a class-action lawsuit in March.

McNally said county officials will try to meet the special master's recommendations.

"We know we have deadlines, as a county, to the judge," he said. "There needs to be action now."

rgsmith@vindy.com




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