CINCINNATI -- Sheriff Jim Neil's declaration of a state of emergency due to overcrowding within the Hamilton County Justice Center created "hype and hysteria" instead of solutions, Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune said Wednesday night.
"I don't want to turn this into a battle with the sheriff," Portune said. "What I want the people of Hamilton County to understand is, number one, there is no crisis at the justice center. There just simply is not."
According to Neil, the situation is stark: The jail is more than 400 inmates over its maximum occupancy and has been for nearly half a year, placing staff at a dangerous numerical disadvantage. Inmates also have limited access to rights such as phones, showers and visits because of the sheer number of people who want to access them, Neil said.
"I cannot and will not jeopardize the safety of my deputies and subject them to an ongoing, volatile, dangerous environment in our jail," Neil wrote.
Portune acknowledged the problem but claimed Wednesday night that while Neil held a news conference about the crowding, he and a group of judges and administrators were meeting to find concrete steps that would alleviate crowding at minimal cost to taxpayers.
Those steps include:
- Asking judges to furlough sentencing, meaning a defendant would not have to serve their sentence as soon as it was handed down but could instead wait for a less busy time at the jail
- Moving inmates with medical conditions to Talbert House or the University of Cincinnati Medical Center
- Expediting paperwork for inmates waiting to be moved
- Making early release available for non-violent inmates who had served 80 percent of their sentences
Portune said Neil did not give him a chance to pitch any of these ideas before his news conference. He had even asked Neil to delay the conference for 24 hours so they could brainstorm together, he claimed, but Neil refused.
Housing Hamilton County inmates in the Butler County jail would cost $75 per day, Neil told reporters in the news conference. He said 25 inmates were sent out of the county on Wednesday. The total daily cost of housing those inmates in Butler County is $1,875, not including transportation.
Portune told WCPO late Wednesday night that the county's budget couldn't cover diverting inmates at that cost, calling it one of the most expensive solutions for the overcrowding problem.
"Inmates can easily be accommodated within any one of a half-dozen options that are available to us today without all the hype and hysteria caused by declaring an emergency," Portune said. "River City Correctional Facility (has) 30 beds available today."