CINCINNATI -- Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil said he is considering working to reopen the Queensgate Correctional Facility to accommodate the increasing number of inmates in the Hamilton County Justice Center.
Neil declared a "state of emergency" in June when the jail population reached an all-time high of 1,611 inmates. The facility was designed to hold a maximum of 1,240, Neil said. There are 1,422 inmates at the jail as of Wednesday.
Reopening the Queensgate Correctional Facility -- which housed over 800 inmates until it closed in 2008 -- could be a solution to overcrowding, Neil said. He said he's working with the Department of Corrections and county commissioners to consider reopening Queensgate's doors.
In a statement Wednesday, Neil said overcrowding has been an issue for years, but it spiked in 2016 due to the region’s opioid epidemic. Inmates with substance use disorders require medical attention, which has been a “tremendous drain” on the county’s limited resources, Neil said.
Neil said he is working with county leaders to determine how the jail can help provide forms of treatment for inmates with substance use disorders.
“A dual approach of incarceration and treatment necessitates an effective use of community resources to address addiction and behaviors which lead to the commission of crimes,” Neil said in a statement. “Sufficient space to incarcerate and treat persons committing crimes to feed an addiction is the measured response we need to begin to tackle our opioid and jail overcrowding issues here in Hamilton County."
Jail officials have sent inmates to be housed in Butler County and implemented the use of 90 floor-level cots (also known as boats) since Neil declared a state of emergency. Additionally, 119 beds were removed from the Queensgate facility and installed in the Justice Center to create more double cells. Neil also spent $200,000 of the jail's budget to install 30 toilets.
Other items to ease tension during overcrowding - 7 new phones. Inmates get 20 min a day - they of course have to pay for that time. @WCPOpic.twitter.com/iZ6eS5iXwR
Hamilton County Commissioner Denise Driehaus said she hadn’t heard of reopening Queensgate before the sheriff brought it up Wednesday.
"It's unsafe for the people who work in those facilities, it's unsafe for the inmates, and this particular instance the sheriff is sending inmates to Butler county, to that facility," Driehaus said. "That's expensive. That's why we should care."
While she agreed overcrowding is an issue, she said she isn’t sure whether reopening the facility will solve the problem.
"So I have an open mind about it, but I want to understand whether it's the most effective way to address the issue and if it is within our budget,” Driehaus said.
In June, as many as 50 inmates were sleeping on portable beds in open areas with just two officers guarding them, Neil said.
Major Chris Ketteman previously told WCPO inmates staying in open areas have had to share restroom facilities designed for one person.
"Imagine 30 or 40 inmates in that room, and they decide they want to get out of control," he said. "We have no cells to put them in. We're kind of at their mercy."
Another issue, Neil said, is that a significant number of inmates are violent offenders who stay at the jail for long periods of time.
"As far as violent offenders, we will house anywhere from, we're fluctuating anywhere from 70 to 80 murderers," Neil said.
The average stay for an inmate is 132 days, Neil said, but some serve much more than that. Neil said one inmate, for example, has served 1,690 days on a murder charge.