As county weighs new jail, advocates urge alternatives to lockup

A contractor’s assessment of Montgomery County’s options for the jail is expected to be finished soon

Montgomery County commissioners expect to receive a new assessment soon exploring a possible new Montgomery County jail.

However, a grassroots group that advocates for less incarceration said officials should be focusing on ways to reduce the jail population and avoid needing a large new jail.

ExploreGreene County weighs its options as jail levy fails a second time

Edwin Fuller, with the Montgomery County Jail Coalition, said that the group has held its own town halls where they heard from residents who want there to be more substance use and mental health treatment in the community outside the jail. He said they also heard from residents that said there needs to be more transparency and community feedback in the county’s process.

“So many parts of our community are marginalized and don’t feel like they have a voice, or if they have a voice, it is not really going to be listened to. We ask that you prove them otherwise,” Fuller said.

The county is nearly five years into the project of weighing what to do about the outdated jail. This summer, county officials asked a contractor already working on a jail assessment to also include an assessment for building a new facility and tearing down the old one.

The needs assessment by the contractor, HDR, and the amount of funding available will determine what course of action the county takes.

“No decisions around the jail have been made at this time,” said County Administrator Michael Colbert, speaking at the county commission meeting Tuesday afternoon.

He said county officials will just be getting the final plans from HDR this month and will brief the commissioners and the sheriff and release the information to the public.

The existing jail, in the 300 block of West Second Street, was built in 1964. Since then, there have been big changes in the jail population, including more women incarcerated, more people in jail being treated or in need of mental health care, as well as more people with substance use disorders.

ExploreState may create plan to help fund new county jails

Both the coalition and county officials have agreed that there are problems with the current facility, including issues with safety and crowding.

County officials have said that increasing capacity is not the county’s main priority, but is being considered due to possible increases in the county’s general population in the coming decade.

County commissioners in May approved a resolution to seek a $40 million jail capital improvement grant from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

A Justice Advisory Committee was formed in March 2017 in response to a raft of federal civil rights lawsuits alleging mistreatment of inmates.

That committee provided county commissioners 93 recommendations for improving the jail facility, policies and procedures. The report indicated the jail typically housed double the number prisoners for its design capacity, which in the early 1990s was 443, and needed dozens of additional staff members.

Colbert said the community has been involved in the process, pointing to the community members on the committee.

Montgomery County Jail Coalition leaders have urged county leaders to look at the feedback that the grassroots group has gathered over several public input sessions, and to find ways to reduce the population in the jail, such as through bail reform.

They pointed to the pandemic, when some people were kept out or released from jail as a pandemic measure.

“Crime didn’t run amok in the streets. It was all OK,” said Theresa Haire, Montgomery County public defender.

About the Author