Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil ends arrest-and-release practice at jail

CINCINNATI - Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil has stopped the arrest-and-release policy for non-violent offenders in an effort to curb what he called the "revolving door" of detainees leaving the jail before they appear before a judge.

Neil announced the change in policy Wednesday, saying it has been in effect for the past six weeks.

"All male offenders who are booked in, are currently detained until they make bail or bond or see a judge at arraignment, there's no more revolving door," Neil said. 

Neil said he has been able to hold more people because he is double bunking inmates who are serving jail time on convictions. 

The decades-old practice was instituted to ease jail overcrowding at the Hamilton County Justice Center, which many have said was too small when it was built in 1985. Jail capacity is 1,240.

In the past, many non-violent offenders were processed at the jail and released with an order to show up for a future court hearing. Often, however, many did not appear for those hearings which would spark a warrant for their arrest.

"As a police officer – as a sheriff – it's embarrassing when an offender beats the officer back to territory," Neil said.

Neil said a goal of stopping the practice is to reduce the number of arrest warrants, which have clogged the court system and cost the sheriff's department about $600 each.

"The important thing by stopping that revolving door is reducing the (warrants) that are issued because when these offenders are released, they're not showing for court," Neil said. "We're strategically moving people around to utilize the beds that we have, it's how we have to do it."

Detainees - or those arrested and waiting for their first court hearing - are not counted in the 1,240-bed figure. They are held in a separate area, Neil said. Detainees cannot blend into the general population until they are sentenced and processed. Detainees and juveniles bound over to the county jail cannot be "doubled-up" in a cell while those in general population can.

In addition to double bunking inmates who are serving time, Major Charmaine McGuffey, who heads Justice Center operations, said sheriff's office officials are identifying candidates for early release and electronic monitoring to create more space to house detainees.

McGuffey said there are about 375 operational electronic monitoring devices and wants to buy more. A judge's approval is required for early release and electronic monitoring.

"The judges are very specific about who can be released," McGuffey said. "We could not to this program without the cooperation and backing of the judges."

 On Tuesday, the jail booked 55 detainees, she said.

"In the past, half of those would have gone right back out the door," McGuffey said. "This is not a shell game, we're choosing to hold on to all the detention prisoners."

Judge Russell Mock, the presiding judge in Hamilton County Municipal Court, welcomed the new initiative as good starting point. Sheriff's office personnel briefed Mock Tuesday.

"We've had these incidences where people have been charged with very serious crimes and they're let go before they ever have a chance to see a judge and then they're right back out on the streets," Mock said.

The holding of detainees does not correlate with the sheriff's office hiring of additional jail staff, McGuffey said. There is a corrections officers class in training of 32, eight of whom are women. Currently, the sheriff's office is paying $40,000 per month in overtime to cover the jail.

"We need more officers so we can stop paying that overtime dollar," McGuffey said. "That has no correlation with eliminating the process-only practice."

The jail is 60 corrections officers below the 292 required to cover the jail, McGuffey said. The training is paid through the sheriff's office budget.

Neil discussed the change in policy during a press conference during which he also said he has hired former Cincinnati Police Chief Tom Streicher and well-known and respected Cincinnati civil rights lawyer Scott Greenwood to perform an audit of the department. That audit will cost between $40,000 and $50,000 and is expected to be completed in 100 days.

"This will truly open up our doors and open up this organization to you all and the people of Hamilton County," Neil said.

The audit will examine how the sheriff's office can streamline its $57 million budget and identify "waste areas."


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