City residents already support the jail through taxes, a municipal judge says.
By DEBORA SHAULIS
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- City and county officials have about two months to reach agreements on outstanding issues related to Mahoning County Jail operations if they don't want a three-judge panel to make those decisions for them.
"I would prefer to have people I know determine my fate as opposed to three judges who don't know me very well," county Prosecutor Paul J. Gains said Tuesday during the Criminal Justice Working Group's first open meeting in nine months.
The meeting was largely a review of the progress that has been made since the group was created by a federal judge's order last August. Fifteen working group members, one facilitator, two observers and various members of the press were in attendance.
U.S. District Judge David D. Dowd Jr. of Akron has jurisdiction over jail issues in light of a successful lawsuit by inmates regarding conditions.
Gains and assistant County Prosecutor Linette M. Stratford met Thursday with Judge Dowd and the inmates' lawyers, which was three days after the working group turned in its recommendations to Judge Dowd about resolving jail issues.
Though Judge Dowd applauded the group's efforts, he also said that all parties must find a way to voluntarily control inmate population -- which was at 442 Tuesday, according to jail warden Alki Santamas -- before a three-judge panel is seated.
"I want to be able to present a unified front to Judge Dowd," Gains said.
One outstanding matter is the financial contribution of municipalities that use the county jail to house prisoners. The working group suggests a fee of $25 per day, plus meals and medical expenses. City leaders say they aren't responsible for inmates who have been charged by city police with violating state statutes.
City residents also pay county sales tax that supports the jail's operation, Youngstown Municipal Court Judge Robert A. Douglas Jr. said.
Asking if the city is using state statutes to avoid paying for jail inmates, Judge Douglas disagreed but said there are state statutes that mirror almost all municipal ordinances.
Judge Douglas believes the city and county will come to an agreement on paying for prisoners, and that will lead the way to acceptance of the working group's suggested jail bed allocation and revised release mechanism to control jail population, he said.
The jail bed allocation is based on reopening the entire jail, part of which was closed in 2005 for lack of funding, and the nearby misdemeanor jail. Between 150 and 200 beds will be reserved for federal detainees at a rate of about $69 per person per day. That and the municipal fees would fund fully open jails, according to group members.
The group's successes include:
Improvements in jail maintenance, including new air conditioning units, said Commissioner John McNally IV.
A day reporting program that began three weeks ago as a way for furloughed inmates to serve their sentences while performing community work, Sheriff Randall Wellington said.
Faster resolution of court cases with the addition of five assistant county prosecutors last September, Stratford said.
Working group members agreed to continue to meet weekly for now, but they did not reach consensus on whether to open up their meetings to the public permanently. David Piper of Boardman, who regularly attends county commissioner meetings, said that will be unpopular with citizens who previously voted against countywide sales tax issues because of dissatisfaction with jail operations.
"If you do not trust the voter, don't expect them to trust the sales tax," Piper said.