County, City Announce “First Step” to Solving Jail Issue, Drop Lawsuits
The Greene County Sheriff’s Office will once again accept municipal prisoners after the county and city of Springfield reached a jail agreement, ending a more than two-year impasse.
Presiding Commission Bob Cirtin made the announcement during a press conference Friday afternoon.
“The Greene County Commission and the Sheriff’s Office has reached an agreement with the city of Springfield to once again accept Springfield municipal prisoners and to help us manage the jail,” said Cirtin.
The agreement amends the 1997 Law Enforcement Sales Tax agreement and settles the lawsuits surrounding the use of the Justice Center. The legal issues surfaced after Sheriff Jim Arnott closed the jail to municipal prisoners on April 1, 2015, due to overcrowding.
Cirtin called Friday’s deal a short term fix.
“The issues that we struggle with is not just a jail problem. It is a criminal justice problem in Greene County. The jail is just the symptom that we have to deal with immediately,” he said.
Commissions hope relief will come in the form of a new sales tax it’ll ask voters to approve in the coming months. If it passes, the county agrees to allocate the funding to expand the jail while Springfield will commit $2 million toward its construction. Payments by the city would be made annually at $200,000 for 10 years.
Within 36 months of voters passing a new county sales tax, the sheriff will guarantee 48- bed capacity for Springfield municipal inmates to be housed in the Justice Center at no additional cost to the city.
“We have a serious problem here and we’re working on it and I think everyone is on board to work together,” said Arnott.
Arnott has also agreed to transport a minimum of up to 35 municipal prisoners per day to jail facilities outside of Greene County, and return inmates back to the Justice Center upon being released at no cost to the city.
The jail’s current capacity is 601. Arnott said Friday it were 796 inmates, meaning many prisoners are being housed in other counties.
“It’s not that we weren’t doing anything [these past two years], I wanna emphasize that for folks,” said Police Chief Paul Williams. “We’ve always been talking about how to get to an endgame here and get us past the lawsuits and get us past the short-term solution into a potential long-term solution. So this does that.”
According to the agreement, each party will have the opportunity to revisit the overall agreement regularly, starting in 2027. If a consensus can’t be reached to continue or renegotiate the agreement, it will expire on December 31, 2037, and future proceeds from the 1997 Law Enforcement Sales Tax will be paid into a third-party escrow account until the parties execute a written extension agreement.
The jail, which opened in 2001, was originally intended to hold 500 inmates. Just two years later it reached capacity for the first time. It underwent a slight remodel in 2014 to expand to its current capacity. A few months after Sheriff Arnott announced he would no longer accept people arrested on municipal charges, the city sued him and the county commission, citing violation of the 1997 agreement. The city started paying to house its prisoners in other counties earlier this year.
Follow Scott Harvey on Twitter: @scottksmu