Jail administrator: New facility, ‘new paradigm’ needed in county corrections

The Greene County Jail in downtown Xenia turns 50 years old this year, and officials are starting discussions about not only building a new facility, but building a new approach to corrections.

Narrow corridors, barred cages and small office spaces define the inside of the building on East Market Street. Deep fissures in the concrete, failing pipes and duct work lie hidden behind walls and floors that appear freshly painted and kept clean.

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Jail Administrator Kirk Keller said the county’s building services workers are patching holes in the concrete and sealing leaks.

“The jail is literally crumbling,” he said.

On average, Greene County processes about 350 people a month at the jail, according to Keller. Annually, the number of people who are housed at the jail for periods of time range from 4,500 to 5,500, Keller said.

The downtown jail is at capacity with inmates who cannot be kept at the newer, lower-security adult detention center near Progress Drive.

But the discussions happening now are not merely about constructing a new building, but figuring out a way to keep people out of jail.

Keller is a strong advocate for what he calls “transformational corrections.”

“We don’t want to just build a building,” Keller said. “We want to build a new paradigm that has an investment to the community.”

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That investment can be measured in “human lives,” he said, when you help someone turn their life around, they stop draining tax dollars and become a more productive member of society.

“Traditional corrections was people serving time. Judges sentence people to time. Time does nothing but turn pages on the calendar,” Keller said. “I can make people conform all day long. As a former school teacher, let’s see what we can do to provide a conduit for transformation.”

Keller has the support of County Commissioner Tom Koogler, who said he has pushed fellow commissioners Bob Glaser and Alan Anderson to start the process of planning a new jail, even if it’s still five or 10 years down the road.

“Instead of spending $30 million on a new jail, I’d rather spend $15 million on a jail and $15 million on rehabilitation, job training, anger management, AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) type services,” Koogler said. “We call these correctional facilities, but there’s not one thing being done to correct anything.”

Koogler said he’s open to looking at new ideas and concepts that haven’t been done before.

“There’s going to be a percentage of people that you just can’t fix,” he said. “But if we can fix 20 percent that are coming in, that’s a big number in the scheme of things.”

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Yellow Springs resident Dorothée Bouquet, who is part of a group of people who routinely challenge decisions by the county’s board of commissioners and administration, is hopeful that county officials follow through in consulting professionals who are “on the front line in the opioid crisis … so that the goal of jail time is not to waste time but to put drug-related offenders on a path of long-term reinsertion.”

“I would like the BOCC to consider the thought that we might not need a new jail as much as we need a treatment center for all addictions,” Bouquet said. “I would applaud them if they were aiming at curbing the incarceration rate of addicts by offering preventative treatment.”

County commissioners recently met with county judges to get their input on sentencing guidelines and the needs that should be considered for a new jail facility.

Koogler said they are planning a second meeting with local mental health professionals and drug-rehabilitation experts to get their input and direction in assessing the needs for a new jail.

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