For many years, jail overcrowding has been a major issue in the criminal justice system of Wayne County. The existing problems in prisoner housing include:
The expense of housing prisoners outside Wayne County has placed a needless burden on our county's taxpayers. We are now using the Holmes and Medina County Jails to board prisoners sentenced by our courts; this out-of-county prisoner housing costs $50 to $60 per prisoner, per day. In the first four months of 1998, the cost of housing those prisoners has risen to a staggering $98,571, and if this trend continues for the remainder of 1998, it will cost Wayne County nearly $300,000! These other counties are also receiving more prisoners from their own courts, which reduces their ability to handle our prisoners.
The long list of prisoners waiting to serve their sentences has also become a significant problem. In State v. Zucal (March 24, 1998), the Ohio Supreme Court clearly established that anyone who has waited for more than five years to serve a misdemeanor jail sentence should be completely released from the obligation to serve that time. More than 100 Wayne County misdemeanor offenders have been excused from serving their sentences because the jail could not accomodate them.
A practical and less expensive plan is an absolute necessity.
Shortly after taking office, Wayne County Sheriff Thomas Maurer began developing a new "Pay-To-Stay" program to address these problems. The "Pay-To-Stay" program will be limited to prisoners convicted of non-violent offenses in Wayne County. Prisoners who are suitable for this program will be housed in an older, renovated building. They will pay the cost of their own stay, and temporary work releases will allow prisoners to maintain gainful employment. This new facility will not be a jail; it will be the setting of a "contract" between the offender and the court, a place where offenders can continue growing as productive citizens while satisfying their debt to society.
Temporary work releases are nothing new; they have been granted to jail inmates for many years. Why should we give work releases to prisoners, allowing them to go to their places of employment for eight to ten hours a day, and then return them to sleep behind bulletproof glass in a locked facility? If we trust these individuals to move about in our community, we should consider options for alternative sanctions. This new program will reduce the overall cost to taxpayers and will provide an opportunity for prisoners to be accountable to society, and at the same time, to be responsible members of that society.
Although this program is new to Wayne County, it has proven successful in other Ohio juridictions. Wayne County officials have visited Union County to observe the "Pay-To-Stay" program operated by Sheriff John Overly in cooperation with the commissioners and judges of that county. The circumstances in Union County were more dire than those here: a complete closing of their county jail. Despite that problem, they were able to renovate an elementary school near downtown Marysville, and since the beginning of their program in October, 1996, more than 365 prisoners have moved successfully through their facility.
Of course, the Wayne County Jail will remain a secure facility for prisoners who are not appropriate for this program. However, the current jail should be a site where individuals are placed only when required by law or when other resources have failed. For many years, our judges, commissioners, prosecutors, and law enforcement officers have been concerned about striking the proper balance between tough justice and and the increasing expense of prisoner housing. Working as a team, we have developed a program which will provide welcome economic relief to the community and fair justice for those who deserve a chance to prove themselves.
The "Pay-To-Stay" program is a fairly new concept in criminal justice, but we must open our minds these to such alternatives in order to build a new and better justice system. We have an obligation to solve an old problem and to build a brighter future for our community. By providing this option to offenders who want to help themselves, we fulfill that obligation.