The chairman of the Mahoning County commissioners said he welcomes the return of video arraignments to the county jail because it reduces the safety risks associated with movement of inmates for law-enforcement and court personnel and visitors.
Commissioner John A. McNally IV made his comment after Sheriff Randall Wellington announced that video arraignments of inmates, who are Youngstown Municipal Court defendants, resumed from the county jail Nov. 2.
“Anytime that you reduce movement of prisoners outside the facility, it benefits the safety of the officers and the community,” said Maj. Alki Santamas of the sheriff’s department. “By conducting video arraignments in the facility, we’re able to limit that movement.”
Video arraignments from the jail had been suspended in February because of a personnel shortage resulting from the county’s budgetary constraints. At that time, 34 deputies were laid off.
However, newly received payments from Youngstown for housing city misdemeanor prisoners in the jail and the recall of laid-off deputies enabled video arraignments to resume at 1:30 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Wellington said.
The city pays $80 per inmate per day for its misdemeanor prisoners, who were charged under city ordinances.
The city has paid the county about $200,000 to date for city prisoners jailed this year, Santamas added.
During the suspension period, city police transported inmates from the jail to the former city jail, from which they appeared on video in municipal court.
The sheriff said retirements in his department have allowed for the recall of all deputies the county laid off due to its recession-induced budget crunch.
McNally said Canfield, Struthers and Sebring also have begun regularly paying the county $80-per-inmate-per-day fees for housing their inmates in the county jail on local- ordinance charges.
McNally added he is looking forward to the Dec. 15 inauguration of the county’s new inmate-management computer system.
“The most important benefit is just real-time information about inmates,” McNally said. “We expect that it’s going to be a big benefit to criminal justice here in Mahoning County.”
The system is designed to provide up-to-date information to judges and other court personnel as to which inmates they have jailed, for what offenses and how long they’ve been jailed.
This will enable judges to prioritize which inmates need to remain jailed and which can be released to avoid jail crowding, Wellington said.
Deputy sheriffs are being trained concerning how to enter information into the new system when they book inmates into the jail.
The system is being paid for by a $300,000 federal grant and an additional $300,000 in county funds. The commissioners bought the new system from Intellitech of Poland.
“It’s going to just revolutionize the booking of inmates. It’s going to save time. It’s also going to save the county money” by facilitating release of prisoners when it’s justified, the sheriff said.
“We’ve always been wanting to be able to just press a button to see how many prisoners were in the jail on a daily basis, literally on an hourly basis, and what their charges were and how long they’re supposed to be there, and this system will be able to do that,” said Anthony Vivo, county clerk of courts.
“This is what government should be about: advanced technology to make things quicker and easier,” Vivo said.