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Group to report on ideas for jail



Published: Thu, April 27, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



A jail bed allocation plan is being tweaked to accommodate county court judges.

By DEBORA SHAULIS

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- The Criminal Justice Working Group that has deliberated privately for months about Mahoning County Jail issues is almost ready to go public with its recommendations.

The group is planning a public information session within a week of filing its final report Monday with U.S. District Judge David D. Dowd Jr., says its spokesman, Commissioner John McNally IV.

Educating the public about the criminal justice system is a component of the report, McNally said.

Many things happened after inmates won a federal lawsuit over jail conditions last year. Judge Dowd assumed jurisdiction over jail issues; part of the justice center on Fifth Avenue was closed; and inmate population was tied to the jail's staffing and funding levels.

The working group -- which is a cross-section of city and county judges, prosecuting attorneys, law enforcement officers and government leaders -- expects to send Judge Dowd a 50-page report on a number of issues, McNally said.

The most recent subjects have been jail bed allocations and emergency release plans.

Modifying proposal

A jail bed proposal is being modified to give slightly more space to county courts, McNally said. As their share increases, the number of beds reserved for Campbell and Struthers municipal courts will decrease. Campbell and Struthers have jails and can house inmates for up to 12 days, he noted.

The jail bed allocation plan also anticipates the housing of 150 federal inmates at roughly $68 per day. Revenues generated by federal detainees should be enough to fully staff the jail and the closed 96-bed misdemeanor jail on Commerce Street, according to working group members.

The 13-step emergency release mechanism that judges used to control jail population is evolving into a continuous release plan, McNally said. With changes that address inmates charged with domestic violence or convicted of contempt of court, McNally believes the judges will reach consensus.

Recommendations, not rules

The working's group report will be a series of recommendations, not iron-clad rules. "We know at times there might be reasons to change things up a bit," McNally said. That's especially true of jail bed allocation, he added. It will be up to each court to keep track of how many people are being sentenced to jail and to report back to the committee if any needs change.

Each court was to receive a journal entry on these issues this week. If judges sign the journal entries by Monday, they will be part of the working group's report to Judge Dowd. That would be "a great sign of unity from the judicial branch," McNally said.

It's been difficult to get judges to meet as a group and discuss jail issues, so group acceptance of the jail bed and continuous release plans "would show the judge they have thoughtfully considered the issues," McNally said.

shaulis@vindy.com




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