Inmates are sweeping city sidewalks and scrubbing jail walls.
By DEBORA SHAULIS
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Furloughees from Mahoning County Jail now may trade eight hours of labor for one day behind bars.
A day reporting program began last week for nonviolent offenders who are waiting to complete their sentences in the county jail, which has been partially closed for more than a year because of funding and staffing limits.
Furloughees earn one day of credit in the county jail for every eight hours of supervised community service work they perform.
"If it goes well, it will probably be permanent" and could lead to more alternative sentencing programs, said Judge Maureen A. Sweeney of Common Pleas Court.
Day reporting was taking place Monday as members of the county's Criminal Justice Working Group completed its final report to U.S. District Judge David D. Dowd Jr. The working group was expected to offer a number of recommendations on improving jail operations and the criminal justice system.
Last year, after Judge Dowd said the jail was overcrowded, understaffed and thus unconstitutional, common pleas judges reinstituted a 13-step emergency release mechanism to limit jail population. People convicted of certain nonviolent offenses, starting with misdemeanors, were temporarily freed until jail space became available for them to serve their sentences.
Now, the county has 468 inmates who have been released on furlough, Sheriff Randall A. Wellington said Monday.
Participation in the day reporting program isn't optional, Wellington said. Offenders who were furloughed first are being called to work first. Last week, nine people were in the day reporting program. This week, the number has risen to 14. "We're just trying to feel our way to see how many we can handle," he said.
Inmates are wearing bright orange vests over street clothes while they are in the day reporting program. They can be assigned anywhere in the county to perform such tasks as mowing grass, picking up garbage or washing county-owned vehicles, Judge Sweeney said. She is one of two spokespersons for the working group.
Inmates have been sweeping Youngstown streets and sidewalks so far, as recommended by Mayor Jay Williams, Wellington said.
Cleaning up jail
Inmates also have been scrubbing walls and floors at the county's misdemeanor jail on Commerce Street, which was closed last year because of budget cutbacks. The working group has suggested reopening the 96-bed jail if the county begins to accept federal detainees for pay again, something that also stopped last year when part of the jail was closed for financial reasons.
As for the program's cost, "It's not expensive at all," Wellington said. Inmates are supervised by one sergeant and two deputies, all of whom already have been working for the sheriff's department. The program doesn't require a lot of security because inmates "are on their honor," he said. "We're not fearful of escapes," especially since they are nonviolent offenders.
This may be the first time that Mahoning County has used jail inmates to perform work in the community on an ongoing basis. Wellington said inmates were used occasionally for graffiti removal on some buildings and structures, and to clean up debris along roads.
The development and expansion of sanctions other than jail was among many recommendations by two consultants from U.S. Department of Justice National Institute of Corrections who visited the county late last year.