Jail population trimmed by almost half in face of virus


By J Swygart - jswygart@limanews.com



LIMA — Nearly 100 fewer inmates were housed at the Allen County jail Monday than were held there just one week earlier.

Of the inmates allowed to leave jail under myriad various circumstances, two-thirds were designated as low-risk, non-violent offenders and were released early as a direct result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

On March 13 there were 228 inmates at the jail. One week later that figure had dropped to 130 – 100 males and 30 females. Nearly three dozen inmates were released last week under constituted “normal” business at the jail and had nothing to do with the COVID-19 virus. Capt. Andre McConnahea, public information officer for the Allen County Sheriff’s Office, said 33 inmates left the correctional facility after their sentences were completed, their bonds were posted or due to some other routine situation.

An additional 65 inmates were released under judge’s orders, McConnahea said, due to the jail’s COVID-19 preparedness plan.

“Some of those inmates were released to house arrest and ankle monitors, but the majority had the remainder of their sentences suspended, with (unserved jail) time left hanging over their heads. Should they re-violate any laws, the time will likely be reinstated, along with any time given for the new violation,” McConnahea said.

Jeffrey Reed was one of six Allen County judges — common pleas, municipal, probate and juvenile — who sat down last week with Sheriff Matt Treglia to discuss the possibility of reducing the jail population for health reasons.

Reed on Monday said the status of every inmate in the jail was reviewed on a case-by-case basis to determine who would be a good candidate for early release … and who wouldn’t.

“Basically what we’ve done in the past week is focus on fifth-degree felons who are non-violent offenders,” Reed said. “We looked as individuals who in some cases were about to be released or those awaiting sentencing who were likely to got Community Control (probation) anyway.”

Reed said there were almost twice as many persons serving jail time for misdemeanor cases that stemmed from Lima Municipal Court than there were for felony criminal cases. Other inmates were released, at the recommendation of probate and juvenile judges, from serving time for child support violations or who were deemed low flight risks.

“This is not a get-out-of-jail free card. We’re not just releasing everybody,” Reed said. “We’re trying to ease the jail population so the health of those (inmates) remaining can be better managed and so there is space to quarantine (inmates) should the need arise.”

Reed said there were no shortage of issues to consider when determining if an inmate was eligible for a conditional release. “What have they pleaded to? Are they going to plead guilty? What hearings are pending? Are there speedy trial (a constitutional right) concerns? Does Marsy’s Law apply?”

Marsy’s Law is state legislation that allows victims of crime to be notified and to be present at every court proceeding.

“Victims have a constitutional right to be present, and that continues,” Reed said. “We have, however, limited the number of members of the public who are allowed to come to sentencing hearings. We just don’t want a lot of people” in the courtroom in light of social distancing mandates.

“We’re trying to keep things moving and maintain business the best we can,” Reed said. “The probation department and prosecutor’s office are still enforcing the laws and people on Community Control are still being supervised.

“The safety of the community is our number one priority, and these decisions are not taken lightly,” McConnahea said. “With the possibility of losing employees to quarantine and/or illness, we must maintain an inmate count that can be safely controlled by a smaller employee pool should the worst case scenario occur.”

Effective March 13, all in-person visits with inmates at the Allen County jail were suspended until further notice. Video visitation remains accessible from homes and kiosks in the lobby of the justice center.

“If you plan to visit via lobby kiosks please be patient and prepare for delays,” the sheriff said last week.

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By J Swygart

jswygart@limanews.com

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