An independent committee has been selected to oversee and address issues at the Montgomery County Jail, which faces a series of civil lawsuits by former inmates claiming mistreatment.
Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer and local and state elected leaders have picked nine people to serve on the Justice Committee, which is expected to meet at least quarterly and will make recommendations about jail policies and resources to the sheriff and Montgomery County commission.
The committee consists of current and past members of law enforcement, civil rights and religious groups, the judiciary, academia and health care.
The committee members have the backgrounds and experience necessary to truly understand the needs, demands and issues at the jail and what can be done to improve conditions, officials said.
“I think the committee is diverse, both in the makeup of who they are and the work they do,” said Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, who helped select members.
County leadership and the sheriff agreed to form a justice committee after weeks of tense exchanges between the two parties, which followed the county commission’s request to the U.S. Justice Department to investigate potential civil rights violations at the jail.
On Tuesday, city and county officials revealed the names of the people picked to serve on the justice committee. The appointments will last for two years.
By the end of the month, the Montgomery County Commission will take action to officially create the body.
The committee co-chairs are retired Rabbi Bernard Barsky with Beth Abraham Synagogue, and Dr. Gary LeRoy, an associate dean for Student Affairs and Admissions at Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine.
Other members are Branford Brown, executive director of the Miami Valley Urban League; Michael Carter, superintendent of school and community partnerships at Sinclair Community College; Stephanie Cook with the city of Dayton Law Department; Rev. David Fox, retired chief of police at Wilberforce University who represents the Dayton unit of the NAACP; Tony Rankin, retired chief deputy at the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office; Gregory Singer, Montgomery County Common Pleas Court judge; and Carol Smerz, CEO and president of South Community Behavioral Healthcare.
Plummer will be an ex officio member, meaning he will not have voting rights.
The committee will be independent from the sheriff and commission and will be tasked with coming up with recommendations to make the jail safer, said Montgomery County Commissioner Dan Foley.
The population of the jail has changed in large part because of the opiate crisis, and changes may be necessary to deal with mental health, addiction and behavioral issues among inmates, Foley said.
The committee will need to arrange for an independent assessment of the jail to get a good picture what what’s going on there and the challenges it faces, Foley said.
Douglas Brannon, an attorney involved in four of the eight lawsuits against the jail and the county, said he’d love to be on the committee if not for conflict of interest concerns.
“It sounds like they’ve tried to get a nice mix from the community, I’ll say, of people that would have an interest,” Brannon said, pointing especially to Cook and Singer. “I’m glad to see that these people have stepped up in our community to participate in part of the oversight process for the jail.”
Committee members were selected over the course of two meetings by a group consisting of county Commissioner Dan Foley, state Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, Plummer and Whaley.
Tensions between the commission and sheriff were escalating after commissioners requested a federal probe of jail activities and policies.
“It’s a good thing for the jail and for the inmates and for the community to have some oversight with how things are done within the sheriff’s office as an entity that more or less governs themselves,” Brannon said.
Earlier this year, the county commission said it might be willing to “modify” its request to the Justice Department if a local oversight committee was established.
Whaley said she believes getting the jail to be more transparent and “work better” must be handled at the local level.
Foley said he now believes the issues at the jail can be resolved at the local level, which will make the facility safer for inmates and corrections employees.
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