GALLIPOLIS — Gallia Commissioners invited the Gallia law enforcement community to its regular Thursday morning meeting to discuss concerns with the growing costs associated with county corrections issues and a growing inmate population.
Those attending included Gallia Common Pleas Judge Margaret Evans, Gallipolis Municipal Judge Eric Mulford, Gallipolis Police Chief Jeff Boyer, Gallipolis City Manager Gene Greene, Gallipolis City Commissioner Tony Gallagher, Gallipolis City Solicitor Adam Salisbury, Ohio State Highway Patrol Gallipolis Post Commander Lt. Barry Call, Gallia Prosecutor Jason Holdren and Rio Grande Police Chief Josh Davies, among others.
“You were asked to be here because in some way you interact with our criminal justice system,” said Commissioner David Smith, “mostly in the fact that you place prisoners in our facilities or are responsible for transporting people in or out. So, you interact and kind of know the situation we’re in. We’re here today to discuss and draw some attention to an issue that is basically a financial issue.”
“Being a school administrator for years,” said Commissioner Brent Saunders, “I was over here several times due to juvenile court and having to file charges on unruly kids…The thing that I noticed, I’ve been downstairs through our jail about three times since I’ve been a commissioner. Usually I hear things like ‘Hi Coach Saunders, how you doing?’ It’s not by the workers. It’s by the prisoners. My concern for the situation there is the safety, number one, of the staff, and I hear recently there has been a lot of noise…So I am concerned about the safety of the staff. I’m concerned about the safety of the prisoners. If you take some young person that’s made a little mistake and he’s brought in here and taken down to our jail, I kind of fear for his safety. I fear for your safety, if you’ve ever worked the jail.”
Commissioner Harold Montgomery said he agreed with his colleagues.
“One things I’ve always said is that fighting crime is expensive,” said Montgomery. “That’s what we’re going to try and deal with…There is another caveat that goes along with this. We have defense of the indigent to fund. We don’t get the reimbursement from the state that was originally designed. We’re receiving less than what the program was supposed to reimburse.”
Montgomery’s statement about “defense of the indigent” refers to the county’s responsibility to fund an attorney for a defendant’s counsel, if that individual cannot afford an attorney.
Montgomery thanked the region’s judges because he felt that sometimes others did not understand the efforts they have taken to divert defendants into rehabilitation or other such programs to keep them out of “our jail situation,” he said.
Next, Gallia Sheriff Matt Champlin presented statistics over the last three years regarding the Gallia corrections program, including the jail and Gallia Work Release Center.
“We’ve done a three year breakdown,” said Champlin as he presented informational displays. “Starting in 2016, you can see that our (average) daily inmate population was a little over 56 inmates in our custody. Of that 56, 72 percent were housed downstairs in the jail, 24 percent of those were housed in our work release center and four percent were out-of-county, usually housed with another sheriff’s office. We jump to 2017 and you see the daily inmate population grew to a little over 67 inmates (average daily). Of those 67 inmates, 73 percent were housed down here at our jail, 21 percent of those were housed in our work release center and six percent were housed out-of-county…As we move down here to 2018, we see a huge explosion from 2016 to 2018. Our average daily population is a little over 82 inmates. Of those, 70 percent are housed downstairs here, 19 percent are housed at our work release center. We see a drastic increase, almost tripled from 2016 to 2018, we’re at 11 percent out-of-county.”
In 2016, the county housed 1,655 individuals through its jail, 560 through the work release center and 83 for out-of-county. In 2017, 1,884 were housed in the jail, 558 in the work release center and 149 out-of-county. In 2018, with year-to-date totals, 1,639 were housed in the jail, 440 in the work release center and 273 in out-of-county facilities.
“We’re only able to hold a certain number of inmates in our facilities, so we’re basically forced to outsource that to other counties,” said Champlin. “The bad thing about that is those counties are quite a distance for us to travel. We travel as far away as Van Wert County (on the Ohio and Indiana border) which is a three and a half or four hour trip, one way.”
Total expenditures for the county jail expenses in 2016 totaled $1,536,153,76 with $157,266 of that in out-of-county housing for inmates. In 2017, the county spent $1,635,780.08 on its jail program with $318,359 on out-of-county inmate housing. In 2018, The county spent $1,586,995.53 on jail with $461,532 on out-of-county housing.
In 2016, out-of-county expenses cost $104,048 in prisoner housing, $5,196 in medical and $48,020 in transportation. In 2017, housing cost $214, 892, medical cost $11,855 and transportation cost $91,610. In 2018, housing cost $353,580, medical $25,299 and transportation $82,653.
“There are a lot of things that factor in that,” said Champlin. “We’ve been taking a very proactive approach to our opioid epidemic and property crimes and things of that nature. The other problem we’re faced with, as everybody in the room knows, the State of Ohio has been so generous to give us the responsibility of housing our (fourth and fifth-degree offenders with changes in Ohio law). A lot of those things factor into our increase.”
Champlin said he wanted those present to understand that the 2018 totals were measured through the end of August. Bills had not been received for the month of September yet.
The Gallia Jail is reported to be a 22-bed facility.
“The people that we’re keeping locked up need to be,” said Champlin. “Since we have started our proactive approach, we see a decrease in our property crimes, a decrease in violent crimes and everything associated with the opioid epidemic. Our citizens expect that out of us. That’s why we’re all in these positions we’re in because we vowed to keep the public safe.”
Champlin said while law enforcement was doing its job, higher numbers of inmates presented challenges.
Smith said the Gallia general fund is roughly $8.6 million in 2018. Commissioners anticipate they can maintain expenses through 2019 but are concerned about the coming years due to the loss of roughly $600,000 annually in what has been called an MCO sales tax loss due to recent rulings by state government. Commissioners said Gallia was not unique among other rural counties in its financial, jail and opioid problems, but that they had gathered with the law enforcement community Thursday to get solutions in motion.
“We have been working on this for the better part of a year in the background,” said Smith. “We are open to any possible solutions, should someone like to come forward with an idea. We are reaching out to the state, to our elected officials. We are not unique in this situation. I think we are in a better position than many other counties I have talked to…I can tell you we have prepared for the best we could for what we see coming.”
“As David alluded to, we have to provide funding for the whole county,” said Montgomery. “Looking back at (the financial percentage of) the judicial side of law, the courts, defense of the indigent and everything, it was running somewhere around 46 percent of our general fund budget. I haven’t run the numbers recently but I think we’re up around 51 or 52 percent this year. In dealing with this, we cannot neglect the rest of the county. We have to support and intend to support our services. That is some of the reason we give for the urgency to everyone today.”
Gallipolis City Manager Gene Greene asked the commissioners if the county was looking down the road to a “centralized jail” or added revenue to help the issue. Smith said no possibilities were being “closed out.” As for a regional jail, he mentioned concern with examples of regional jails across the river in West Virginia and their challenges. He said he had heard talk that state officials may be considering jail funding to be included in the state’s capital improvement budget, but that local government would have to wait and see what happens.
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.