Ohio Jails Struggle With Female Overpopulation

ATHENS, Ohio (AP) – The warden of a regional jail in southeast Ohio says overcrowding of female inmates is becoming an increasing problem there and at other county and regional jails around the state.

There are 32 beds available for women at the Southeastern Ohio Regional Jail in Nelsonville and – often – they are all occupied, warden Jeremy Tolson told The Athens Messenger.

Tolson said the overcrowding is “kind of a new trend,” occurring statewide.

Various factors have contributed to the overcrowding, including a state legislative change in 2011, according to some jail officials. That change enabled fifth- and fourth-degree felons to be incarcerated in county jails.

Robert Cornwell, executive director of the Buckeye State Sheriffs’ Association, said the change was seen as a way to save the state money and reduce its prison population. It gave judges more flexibility to put nonviolent felons in local control settings such as halfway houses or community-based correction facilities, he said.

“But that can put a burden on local jails,” Cornwell said. “Many of the jails that were constructed in the last 20 years didn’t envision this increase in the female inmate population.”

He said another factor contributing to overcrowding is that more women are being arrested on drug-related charges considered nonviolent offenses.

“They stay at the local jail when they are arrested, and if they are put on a local control program and violate that, they go back to jail,” he said.

In the regional jail in Nelsonville, 185 of the 226 inmate beds are designated for its member counties. Those include the counties of Athens, Hocking, Morgan, Perry and Vinton. The remaining beds are used for overflow.

There were only about 200 inmates at the regional jail as of Jan. 23, but all of the beds for women were filled.

Athens County has the most beds at the regional jail, with 70 for men and six for women.

But with the overflow beds for female inmates full, one woman recently arrested had to be jailed in Washington County, Athens County Sheriff Patrick Kelly said.