Think Regional On Jail Woes

Surely Belmont is not the only East Ohio county struggling to find enough jail cells. The sad fact of the matter is that the key contributor to the problem, drug abuse, is a regional epidemic.

Belmont County commissioners discussed the challenge last week. It can be summed up with two statistics:

n At one point a few days ago, there were 142 male prisoners “on the books” for the county jail, which was built to house 144 inmates.

n Women, too, commit crimes. At the same time the male inmate count was reported, the jail had to handle 54 women.

Not all the 196 inmates were housed at Belmont County’s jail. Those with mental health issues must be sent elsewhere. And, because of overcrowding, 17 Belmont County prisoners were being held at the Jefferson County jail in Steubenville. That costs taxpayers $55 per day, per inmate.

Public safety costs, including law enforcement and incarcerating prisoners, “are going through the roof,” complained Commissioner Mark Thomas last week.

He pointed out that the fact both male and female prisoners have to be housed is not simply a matter of finding enough beds throughout the county jail. Males and females must be kept in separate wings of the building, Thomas noted.

So, what to do? Two thoughts on that have been suggested. One is to keep sending excess prisoners to other counties. The second is for Belmont County to construct a new jail for inmates accused of misdemeanor crimes.

Commissioners should resist using that option. Taxpayers would have to pay more to build the new jail, then would be saddled with ongoing expenses to operate it.

Perhaps a meeting of county officials from the entire East Ohio region is in order. There must be some way the counties can assist each other. The possibility of one county handling all female prisoners at a low rate comes to mind.

Substance abuse is a regional problem, as is what to do with those arrested for drug-related crimes. Obviously, that calls for a regional approach to a solution.

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