County to consider criminal justice committee

February 15th, 2007    Author: Rodney Beckwith    Filed Under: News

A recent inspection by the National Institute of Corrections found the Clermont County Jail in good order, both physically and operationally, and suggested that local officials create a committee to help keep the system running smoothly.

According to Clermont County Sheriff Tim Rodenberg, that committee, which is still being considered by the county, would most likely take the form of a general criminal justice committee rather than focus strictly on the jail itself.

“Now that the NIC report has been rendered, it’s quite comprehensive,” said Sheriff Rodenberg. “One thing that they felt was helpful in other jurisdictions they’ve assessed and analyzed is to have a committee of a diverse group of viewpoints to discuss this, and not just the jail. They said a lot of communities fail by focusing just on the jail, and that’s only a piece of the entire pie. It all starts with law enforcement.”

Sheriff Rodenberg said that the idea is to better manage how law enforcement agencies, such as the sheriff’s department, the prosecutor and court are operating together. Doing so, said Sheriff Rodenberg, would create a more comprehensive process that manages how many offenders, and what offenses, receive what punishment.

"If you have more law enforcement on the streets, you have more arrests," said Sheriff Rodenberg. "If you have more judges, that will cause the cases to proceed through the system quicker and the jail is at the end of the process. So we need people of various viewpoints, because several heads are better than one. The thing is, it all boils down to money. None of the solutions are going to be cheap. The committee is certainly a way to get started."

Currently, the Clermont County Jail enjoys a high vacancy rate due to the recent construction of a new wing. However, there is a functional shortage of jail space due to the costs of operating the entire jail. Therefore, a portion of the jail is effectively shut down. The NIC report suggested creating alternative sentencing methods that would avoid actual jail time in favor of a service-orientated sentence.

"They've made some suggestions, day reporting for example," said Sheriff Rodenberg. "To set up a comprehensive and effective day reporting plan, you don't want them just sitting around watching TV all day long and going home at night. With an effective day reporting operation, you need training, counseling, programs to deal with substance abuse problems and programs to help with finding a job. Otherwise, day reporting is just an effort with no positive results at the end. But with a good program, it would not only ease jail capacity issues, but reduce repeat offenders from coming back to the jail again."

Day reporting would, in essence, require offenders to report to a certain location during specified times to serve out their sentence in pieces, rather than all at once as in a jail. That time could be used constructively, such as cleaning up the trash along roadways or completing other community service projects. This would allow low-grade offenders to serve out a sentence in a more constructive fashion, which would free up jail space for more serious offenders.

"Some aren't open to rehabilitation, but some are," said Sheriff Rodenberg. "This is certainly something we'll look at. Much of this will be determined by the county administration as to what money is available to do what might be possible and if we can do it properly with the resources we have. There are no shortage of ideas, we've come up with some of our own. This will help, we were at a crossroads, but not moving forwards. This will help us take it to the next level."

Other ideas mentioned in the report include work release programs, intensive supervision probation and boot camps, among other options such as electronic monitoring.

Sheriff Rodenberg said that he was pleased with the results of the inspection, as well as with the professionalism of the inspectors themselves, who have a great deal of experience in the field. Sheriff Rodenberg said that their impression was that the foundation here was good, but the house built upon it may need a little remodeling. Their visit, he added, has already sparked some ideas by staff members of the sheriff's department.

"This is an absolute winning situation for us, it didn't cost us a penny," said Sheriff Rodenberg. "This is something the federal government provides as a service to various jurisdictions. They're very experienced in the field of corrections and have a good background. They've gone into other places like this, they gave us a very good look at what we can do within our budgetary limitations."

Which, said Sheriff Rodenberg, are often the sticking point with criminal justice operations. Criminal justice is often a large part of any local budget, said Sheriff Rodenberg, and finding more funding can be difficult. That, he said, is where streamlining can help improve services while maintaining a steady budget.

"They did not find any major problems in our operation," said Sheriff Rodenberg. "They did say that we have a high number of inmates in our jail serving relatively short sentences, less than 10 days. They said that can create a lot of problems. It's labor intensive, literally a revolving door. That creates a lot of work, and a logjam."
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