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City and county near agreement on sharing jail

By Debora Shaulis

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A city-county pact and arrival of federal inmates could end a lawsuit over jail conditions.
YOUNGSTOWN -- City and Mahoning County officials may be one business letter away from an agreement on sharing space and costs at the county jail.
Mayor Jay Williams and county Commissioner John McNally sounded upbeat Tuesday after a meeting to discuss jail issues, using the words productive, educational and informative to describe what transpired.
"If the city is interested in assisting the county financially with the jail's operations to ensure a certain number of beds, we are expecting something in writing by next Wednesday," said McNally, who is chairman of the county's Criminal Justice Working Group.
"Our position is one of being collaborative," Williams said, adding that any agreement will require city council's support.
The working group filed a report May 1 with U.S. District Judge David D. Dowd Jr., who ruled in 2005 that the jail's operation was overcrowded, understaffed and thus unconstitutional.
Lack of funds has led the county to close its misdemeanor jail and one tower of the county jail.
The working group's proposal on funding full operations of the jail and the county's misdemeanor jail is to begin accepting federal prisoners again for about $69 per day, while reserving space for municipal court defendants at a rate of $25 per day, plus meals and medical expenses. These would help pay for the cost of added deputies.
That's additional compensation, Williams stressed. "It's important that this process can't be hinged on the city. That's a notion that concerns me. ... I'm taken aback when I'm asked if the city should contribute when other contributions aren't recognized." Williams was referring to sales and real estate taxes that city residents pay to the county. McNally said county officials wanted to make sure the mayor understands the jail's legal situation and what the working group is suggesting.
If the city and county reach an agreement, and then federal inmates return to the county jail, county Prosecutor Paul J. Gains said he believes the inmates' lawsuit will be moot and he'll move to have it dismissed. That will save the county the added expense of litigation as well as responsibility to pay costs of the inmates' attorneys, he said.
"It was good for all of us to sit down. We're all smart people, and we should be able to come up with a solution," Gains said. "Cooperation is the key to solving this problem."
The jail had 492 inmates as of Tuesday. Sheriff Randall A. Wellington will try to release as few inmates as possible to remain constitutional while city and county officials continue to talk about jail-bed allotments, Gains said.