Fixing the jail doesn’t begin with the jail

The news today was that Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, Sheriff Phil Plummer, County Commissioner Dan Foley and State Senator Peggy Lehner have a plan for an oversight committee to work on the Montgomery County Jail, where Plummer thinks it’s ok to pepper spray inmates while restrained. A ten person committee will solve all the problems. Not.

The first step to solving the problems at the jail is to work to keep people out of it, or to at least cycle them through as fast as possible when jail is not the answer.

To start off, we should look to Franklin County which has one county wide municipal court system. Judges are elected county wide, there is only one clerks office, and one website. Because they’ve avoided the duplication we have with courts in Oakwood, Kettering, Centerville, Vandalia, West Carrollton, Miamisburg, Moraine etc. they can do somethings we don’t- like run the clerks office 7 days a week from 8 am to midnight. This way, people can work and get to the clerks office to pay their fines instead of having warrants issued.

Another option is to have night court. No reason to wait till the next day for a TRO, or bail to be set, with a night court- cases can be disposed of quicker. Same goes for having a weekend magistrate. Jail is for people who pose a risk to the community, not those who have other issues- like no way to get in to pay their fines.

Alcohol and drug problems aren’t best dealt with in a jail. Realistically, these are mental health issues, and even Sheriff Plummer tells us he’s not capable of handling psychiatric cases. It’s time to properly assess and build a county wide drug and alcohol treatment center. Yes, the doors will be locked, but, the people dealing with people coming off highs won’t be cops, they’ll be health care professionals. Ask Virgil McDaniel from Project Cure how to best manage addicts, don’t ask Sheriff Phil.

Last but not least, when it comes to bail and bond issues, we need a better system. If you are in jail and can’t make bail, there has to be a better reason than you’re broke. We keep people with very low bail in jail because they just don’t have the money, yet, we spend more in 3 days than what the bail would be. It’s sort of doing time for being broke and it’s not solving anybodies problems. Bail reform has been a major discussion in New York and California, where they’ve realized that by holding people for a week who live on the edge of poverty, it’s pretty much a bankruptcy in the making. Car gets repossessed, rent is late and they get evicted, lost their job, don’t pay their phone bill. Never mind they haven’t been found guilty yet- they’ve just been locked up. We need to find different ways to make sure people show up in court, and that incarceration before your day in court isn’t more expensive than the eventual fine or jail time.

We also need a much faster way to process prisoners out. How about a one hour guarantee or the bail starts going down? I paid $114 to get a friend out of the jail a month ago, and had to wait almost 4 hours for their release. That cost me time and money, and it costs the taxpayers. If you can’t get someone out of jail in an hour after the bond has been paid, there needs to be an incentive in place to get people out of jail as fast as we can put them in.

Make these changes first, and the committee may not have much to fix.

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