Editor’s note: An I-Team investigation found more than a dozen lawsuits against area jails claiming inmates were beaten, raped, medically neglected or killed in jail. In addition to possibly costing taxpayers dearly, advocates for inmates say these cases suggest a failure of the system to protect vulnerable people in public custody. Read our full investigation here.
In responding to Montgomery County commissioners’ calls for a federal probe into potential civil rights abuses in the jail, Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer produced a list of 11 agencies that inspect his jail, ranging from a U.S. Marshalls Office annual inspection to the county health department inspection of the jail cafeteria.
The most recent inspection by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction’s Bureau of Adult Detention was conducted in mid-November and the report was released in January.
The inspection found the jail 100 percent compliant with essential standards and 90 percent compliant with important standards, making it a “compliant jail.”
None of the standards it didn’t meet were related to use of force, though the inspection came two months after it came to light that the sheriff’s office was missing documentation of an inmate being pepper-sprayed in a restraint chair.
When asked about this, ODRC spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said “the inspection was completed before the Bureau of Adult Detention was made aware of the incident… The Bureau has since requested all relevant information related to the incident.”
The I-Team requested all state inspections of full-service jails across the state. Those received by press time included Butler and Clark counties. Butler had a prisoner count exceeding its capacity but was generally compliant. Clark was under its capacity, but was out of compliance with 79 state standards, including several essential standards.
Of those received by press time, many — including Montgomery County — had a population exceeding the capacity recommended by the state.
SPECIAL REPORT: 15 lawsuits allege inmate mistreatment at area county jails
“The conditions (of Ohio’s jails) are overcrowded as far as inmates go, which stresses not only the inmates but also the staff that has to supervise their activities,” said said Robert Cornwell, executive director of the Buckeye State Sheriff’s Association.
He said such crowding and stress contribute to inmate violence, which in turn contributes to officers needing to use force.
Mike Brickner, policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, said the state inspections fall short.
“I think that we have precious little oversight of the county jails. I think we in the state would benefit from an independent state agency that is providing regular oversight of these jails,” he said.
Sheriff Plummer has provided records showing his office has been discussing for months some sort of citizens review committee for the jail, but has provided little details on what powers or responsibility this group would have.
“It’ll probably be seven people. We’ll get them in there monthly, have them talk to the inmates, have them look at the facility, we’ll have them taste the food. I want civilians to go into my jail and tell me what they like, how we can improve our services.”
Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley has suggested the city should appoint a large portion of the board.
Jennifer Branch, whose law firm handles several of the local lawsuits against jails, said she believes every county should have an independent community board with the ability to hear and investigate complaints.
“The community needs to hold their elected sheriff responsible for the conditions, the medical care and treatment of inmates in the local jails and it doesn’t seem that occurs in most of the cases we have filed.”
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