For the first time in nearly three years, the main Mahoning County jail will be fully open April 7, Sheriff Jerry Greene said Tuesday.
The reopening of the final 57-bed prisoner housing unit is being made possible by a series of strategies, Greene said.
Those include fees for services ranging from jail inmate reception to sex-offender registration to criminal background checks and foreclosures, the hiring of seven new deputies, the transfer to the jail of three deputies from the courthouse and one from the juvenile justice center, and multitasking by administrative staff, who can be assigned to the jail at any time, as needed, Greene explained.
Judge John M. Durkin, presiding and administrative judge of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, said the full availability of space in the main jail will benefit the community.
“The fact that the sheriff will be able to follow the judges’ sentences, or follow conditions of bond, will ensure the safety of the community,” Judge Durkin said.
“There’s been a frustration for judges, prosecutors and police where the sheriff has been unable to carry out sentences, or has been forced to release individuals charged with a felony only because there hasn’t been enough room to hold them,” while jail operations have been curtailed, he said.
“That’s very good news,” Nicholas Modarelli, chief assistant county prosecutor, said of the full jail opening. “This will help keep our streets safer” by keeping in jail some inmates who previously had to be released due to jail-space limits.
“To me, it’s a high priority because it’s the ability to put criminals behind bars,” Greene said. “The biggest way we can help all of our other local law-enforcement agencies, along with ourselves, is to keep the people in jail that they arrest, instead of [their] being booked and released because we’re overcrowded.
“The biggest impact of this move is going to be our hopes that it will reduce crime within Mahoning County by putting more criminals behind bars and keeping them there.”
The reopening of the final prisoner housing unit this spring is timely, said Maj. William Cappabianca, explaining, “As the temperatures rise, so does the crime rate.”
The main jail now averages about 480 prisoners, said Maj. Alki Santamas. Some 124 department employees now work in jail operations, he said.
“What these additional hirings are going to do is reduce the amount of overtime we’re paying, plus creating a safer atmosphere,” the sheriff said.
The transfer of deputies from the courts will not compromise court security, Greene said. For security reasons, Greene declined to discuss exact numbers of deputies serving the courts, except to say that the number is flexible, depending on courtroom activity.
Noting that Greene previously supervised courthouse security, Judge Durkin said the judges “have complete confidence in him that the courthouse is adequately staffed and that the safety of the employees and the public is still paramount.”
The full reopening of the main jail does not require any increase in the $17.4 million general-fund budget allocation county commissioners gave the sheriff for 2013, nor will it require the return of revenue-generating federal prisoners to the jail, Greene said.
However, Greene said he has been discussing the return of federal detainees with the U.S. Marshals Service. He also said he has been discussing with officials of two other counties the revenue-generating transfer of prisoners from their overcrowded jails to the Mahoning County jail.
Due to financial constraints, the main jail has been operating at less than its full capacity, and the 96-bed minimum security jail has been closed to overnight use since May 2010.
Reopening the minimum security jail would be “heavily dependent” on getting revenue-generating federal inmates or inmates from other county jails, the sheriff said.
The cost of housing inmates is about $80 per inmate per day, he added.