Step up now or pay big later

Many years ago as chief investigator for the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas, I was ordered to do several investigations regarding jail and prison issues often involving violence and death.

Those investigations led me to most, if not all, prisons in Ohio, including the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus, its six-tiered cell block one of the largest in the country, the dorm type facility at London, the max security facility at Lucasville, and the Federal Penitentiary at Marion, the site of the filming of the movie Shawshank Redemption.

My work also led me to several county jails in Indiana and Ohio, as well as a familiarity with the Women’s Correctional Facility at Marysville.

The nature of the investigation usually involved issues of jail security, suicides both successful and failed, internal violence, and issues regarding jail/community welfare; visitation, jail health, trustees and the correctional officer training.

At that time, we had more than one million people behind bars and jails were, as they are today, big business.

Now, we as a community, face the issue of jail replacement. A functional jail has to be a practical, almost living, breathing facility or it will continue to be a liability to the community, both fiscally and functionally.

The characteristics of an effective jail include safety. A safe environment for the community, the peace officers who transport to the facility, the correctional officers who maintain the jail environment, the court reporters who must use the jail as part of the process, and the inmates themselves who need a predator-free environment.

An effective jail facility must also facilitate inmate transition. Most of the inmates will be reintroduced into our community after their sentences are completed. These effective jails provide for mental, social and religious counseling, work release vocational initiatives, safe functional visitation areas and health care priorities.

An effective jail should provide for sentencing alternatives. Some people, by their actions and the statutes, must be incarcerated. Period! In other situations, the community is better served by work release, probation and creative sentencing like weekends only, etc. Judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys need enhanced sentencing alternatives, and an effective jail can provide for those situations.

The community has before it the opportunity to provide an effective jail facility. We can rise to the occasion and build for an enhanced future or eat an inadequate facility for generations.

An effective jail provides for community, law enforcement and court officer safety both in transporting and housing. An effective jail provides correctional officers efficient and safe jail management. An effective jail enhances the prisoner safety from health and inmate predator issues. An effective jail recognizes that most of the inmates will return to the community .

We as a community are now under a court issued mandate. These types of facility issues will not go away. In fact, it has been my experience that they will increase, and the cost of litigating these issues will also increase.

Building an adequate, cost-effective jail facility is on the horizon. One of the most revealing signs of the health of a community is the responsibility and treatment of the incarcerated. We can step up now or continue to pay large expenditures of litigation in the future. It will not go away.

H. Mark Iunghuhn, Princeton

 

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