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Inmate jail proposal in Ohio

CINCINNATI – A state lawmaker hopes to alleviate jail overcrowding with an Ohio law allowing border counties to send inmates to jails just across the state line.

The proposal would provide more alternatives for Ohio counties like Hamilton – located on the border with Kentucky – to house overflow inmates from crowded jails, said state Rep. Tom Brinkman Jr., R-Cincinnati.

“Some counties in Ohio that aren’t on a state border may have six or seven Ohio counties surrounding them where they may be able to house prisoners,” Brinkman said. “We need to have the same type of flexibility as those other counties that have more options.”

Hamilton County borders three Ohio counties – Clermont, Warren and Butler – and is just across the Ohio River from Campbell County in northern Kentucky, where inmates could be housed if Brinkman’s bill is approved. Hamilton County now houses about 300 of its more than 2,600 inmates in Butler County.

“Ohio law doesn’t say you can’t do this, but the law does say that jails where inmates are housed must be inspected by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction,” Brinkman said.

Brinkman stressed that his proposal would allow Ohio counties to house inmates only in other state’s counties that are contiguous to them.

Brinkman, founder of the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes, opposes a proposal on the November ballot to increase Hamilton County’s sales tax to raise money for a bigger county jail.

“There are lots of solutions to overcrowding that have not been looked into,” Brinkman said. “I think it’s a mistake to go right for a tax without weighing other options.”

The lawmaker is still drafting the bill that he hopes could become law as early as next month.

Hamilton County Commissioner Pat DeWine, who also opposes the proposed tax increase, supports Brinkman’s plan.

“I think it would help alleviate our need for more jail space and make existing space available at a much lower cost,” DeWine said. “It’s at least part of the solution.”

Robert Cornwell, executive director of the Buckeye State Sheriffs’ Association, said the group agrees with the plan in concept but wants to see the final proposal.

He questioned whether a county in the middle of the state with insufficient jail space could send prisoners to a county along Ohio’s border that in turn might send those inmates to an out-of-state county jail.

Campbell County Jailer Greg Buckler said officials there see no problem with Kentucky law and the plan to house up to 100 Ohio inmates at that county’s jail.

“It helps us financially by filling up empty beds, and it helps Hamilton County with its overcrowding at least temporarily,” Buckler said. “Of course when we fill up with our own prisoners, then we wouldn’t be able to take any from Hamilton County.”

An official with the National Association of Counties in Washington, D.C., was not sure how many other states may have similar arrangements.

“It sounds like a good allocation of available resources as long as they have an intergovernmental agreement and are in compliance with the laws of both states,” said Jacqueline Byers, director of research. “It sounds like a win-win situation.”

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