Ralph E. Ramey died Monday, April 29, 2019, in Federal Way, Wash., from complications of pneumonia after a prolonged decline in health. He was 90. Ralph was the director of Glen Helen from 1973 to 1990.
Ralph grew up in Columbus and was a camper at Columbus YMCA Camp Willson near Bellefontaine, where he later became a camp counselor and assistant director. He was active in the Boy Scouts, attaining the rank of Eagle Scout and later becoming a scoutmaster. He helped establish an Explorer Scouts Troop in Yellow Springs during the mid 1970s.
Ralph attended The Ohio State University, graduating in 1950 with a Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture. He earned a master’s degree in environmental education from OSU in 1976. In following years, he taught several classes at OSU.
While at Ohio State, Ralph played in the OSU Marching Band. He continued to play as an active member in the OSU Alumni Band (TBDBITL) for many years.
Ralph married Jean Alice Waldschmidt, also from Columbus, on May 26, 1951. Together, they raised three children: John, Carolyn and Jim, who was a 1976 YSHS graduate.
Ralph was an avid naturalist, interpreter, outdoorsman and photographer. Following two years in the US army and a stint with Pfizer Labs, Ralph focused his career on wildlife and habitat preservation, parks and environmental education. He spent three years as a recreation supervisor for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, followed by four years at the Columbus and Franklin County Metropolitan Park District as interpretive specialist and then supervisor of public information.
In 1973, Ralph became director of the Glen Helen Nature Preserve in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where he influenced everything from fundraising for the Glen to programs, outreach and much more. Recently he told his wife, Jean, that his time at the Glen Helen was the best of his life.
Following his time in Yellow Springs, Ralph served one year as the director-secretary of Miami County Park District in Tipp City, Ohio, before becoming the chief of the Division of Natural Areas and Preserves for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, where he served from 1991 to 1994, before retiring.
Ralph authored three books about hiking in Ohio, including “50 Hikes in Ohio,” with the 4th edition published in 2016.
Preservation of Ohio’s natural areas was Ralph’s passion. He was instrumental in the preservation of Cedar Bog Nature Preserve near Urbana. A plaque there dedicates the boardwalk trail in his name.
Ralph was preceded in death by his daughter, Carolyn. He is survived by his wife, Jean; two sons, John (wife Diane) and Jim (wife Karyn); his sister, Margaret; and four adored grandchildren, Kalen, Tristan, Tanner and Lauryn.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made to The Glen Helen Association or the Cedar Bog Nature Preserve.
“Can people recover from a debilitating mental illness with such limits to the support they are offered? Can a city recover from a recession with such endemic challenges caused by forces greater than the ones on the ground? Can a system that is bent on profits care for people? Can a caretaker who has herself been abandoned have the resources to really be of help?”
These are the questions that Louise Smith, a veteran writer and actor, therapist and Antioch College performance professor, addresses in her newest work, “DOROTHY LANE: a travelogue.” Smith will debut the new piece on Friday, May 17, and Saturday, May 18, at 8 p.m. in the Foundry Theater’s Experimental Theater.
“DOROTHY LANE,” which was inspired by Smith’s three years as a community mental health therapist in Dayton and Springfield, is the fictional chronicle of a therapist working in Dayton in 2008, when the city was deep in a recession. Smith said in an interview last week that the piece originally began its life as more than 100 pages of creative nonfiction.
“I wanted to work on being a writer,” she said. “As a performer, you can do a kind of sales job on your own writing to sell it, but I wanted to see what it would be like to just try and write, and let it live on its own.”
Smith was part of a writing group that included community members Bomani Moyenda, Joyce McCurdy, Venita Kelly and Mary Morgan. She workshopped the early prose that would eventually become “DOROTHY LANE” nearly a decade ago in the group.
“It was very affirming in that they said this is a story that should be told,” she said. “A story about vulnerable lives and a vulnerable city and my own vulnerability.”
After working on and living with the material for a while — and feeling stuck on how to present the work — Smith said a friend suggested that she take the many pages of material she had produced and return to her roots in theater.
“I realized that, yes, this is very performative work, actually,” she said. “And I thought, ‘Okay, well, I am a playwright.’”
Smith submitted her raw pages to the Ohio Arts Council and received a playwriting fellowship to work on creating “DOROTHY LANE.” She also worked in residency at the Vermont Studio Center.
Smith said that her interest in mental health and psychology was actually a product of studying theater at Antioch College, from which she graduated with a theater degree in 1977. She learned under famed actor and theater professor Meredith Dallas, who himself earned a Ph.D. in gestalt psychology at the Union Institute in Cincinnati. Part of Dallas’ dissertation involved leading a gestalt theater class called “Family.” As part of the class, Smith and her fellow students were instructed to delve into their own psyches by enacting their family histories. The work she did in the class with Dallas sparked a keen interest in psychology — for years after graduating, she would immerse herself in reading books on psychology.
Smith came back to the college in the ’90s, after years on the stage, to lead the theater program. But by 2003, the college had entered a period of economic and directional turmoil. Sensing a sea change in the air, Smith began formally studying psychology at the University of Dayton that year while she was still working at Antioch.
“I thought, ‘This will be my retirement career, so I know that I have a place to go when I leave Antioch,’” she said.
Her instinct ended up serving her well: she graduated with her M.S. Ed. in community counseling from U.D. in May of 2008, and Antioch College closed the next month. By August, Smith was working her first job in community mental health.
Smith worked as a therapist for three years in Dayton. She said that, as a native New Yorker, she initially felt a certain amount of distaste for the struggling city, but that working with the people who live there ended up fostering compassion.
“My heart really went out to the city,” she said. “This was a city in distress, a city that’s trying really hard. And then inside all of that, there are people in distress. So [“DOROTHY LANE”] is about what’s under the surface of things, and what care really means and what recovery really means.”
Smith returned to Antioch in 2011 as the Dean of Community Life. Despite her unhappiness with the college prior to its closure, and the fulfillment she’d found working in mental health, she felt drawn back to the college.
“I had this epiphany: in feudal times, the whole community got together to build the cathedrals,” she said. “That’s what Antioch is for Yellow Springs — it’s like the cathedral we keep trying to build for ourselves here. So I decided to use my counseling skills to apply for the dean job.”
In 2014, the position of performance professor opened back up, and Smith again felt called to return to her roots. She applied as part of a national search, and is now again at the theater program’s helm.
Though theater and therapy may seem incommensurable at first glance, Smith said she feels the two fields are connected at their foundations.
“We contain multitudes, you know,” she said, paraphrasing Walt Whitman. “There’s the idea of consistency of personality or identity, that we’re all in-process all the time. I think that’s true in acting, and I think it’s true in therapy — and certainly my lived experience.”
Smith describes “DOROTHY LANE” as being something like a radio play — she’s telling the story through the voices of different characters, underscored with music by New York artist Meredith Monk. It’s also part travelogue, as noted in the play’s full title: during her time working in Dayton, she took many photos of the city’s streetscapes, which she projects behind her on stage as she performs. Both the music and the projections are controlled by Smith on stage.
“It’s really a lot about listening — it’s more like storytelling than me acting out a scene. It’s very much about the music of the language and the music of the people in the play.”
“DOROTHY LANE” is directed by Lizzie Olesker, a playwright, performer and director whom Smith met at Antioch; the play’s set was designed by villager and artist Migiwa Orimo. Smith said it’s not unusual for actors performing their own work to collaborate with others on the process, even when it comes to directing.
“You need the outside eye,” she said. “I worked with a mask maker named Ralph Lee years ago, and he’d show us how to make a mask and he’d say, ‘It wants to have eyebrows, it wants to have a mustache.’ I never forgot that — the work wants to be what it is. So I’m going to take the director’s advice, and the director’s going to respect my vision. There’s not a lot of ego in it.”
Smith said that there’s always been an aspect of psychology in her work for the stage — or, at least, her own psychology.
“So much of theater is sort of mining your own psyche,” she said.
“DOROTHY LANE” marks the first time that Smith’s work has addressed psychology and mental health so directly, however — and she said it will probably be the last.
“I don’t think I’m going to do this again,” she said. “It took me nine years to really get the courage to do it.”
Smith’s continued relationship with the theater is something of a given for her, both as a performer and a full-time professor at Antioch. But she also feels that, ultimately, working in therapy is where she’ll end up again some day. To that end, she still continues to work in mental health, on a very part-time basis.
“Therapy, like theater, is such a process,” she said. “You have to practice — and if you don’t practice, you get rusty.”
“DOROTHY LANE: a travelogue,” will be performed on Friday, May 17, and Saturday May 18, at 8 p.m. in the Foundry Theater’s Experimental Theater at Antioch College. Admission is free, but seating is limited. Those planning to attend should make reservations in advance by emailing email@example.com. Donations will be accepted and light refreshments will be served after each performance.
Levi Anthony Samuel Bittner, age 39, of Cedarville, passed away on Thursday, May 2, 2019. He was born September 19, 1979, in Xenia, Ohio, the son of Mark Bittner and Tonda (Schlichter) Martin. He was preceded in death by his mother, Tonda, and friend, Todd Acton. Levi is survived by his two sons, Colton and Jaxon Bittner; wife, Sarah (Johnson) Bittner; father, Mark (Jerri) Bittner; mom, Joycelyn (Steve) Cline; siblings, William Dyke, Tera Bittner, Dusti (Creditt) Jordan, Evan Creditt, Mariah (Josh) Nichols, Zach Creditt, Todd (Shannon) Jones, Carla (Tim) Ford, Jeremy (Lisa) Dyke; nieces, nephews and many extended family and friends (chosen family). He loved being a father to his boys, fishing, creating music, and could always be counted on to lend a hand or ear to anyone that needed it. He lit up any room he entered, and made friends everywhere he went. Arrangements in care of Belton-Stroup Funeral Home. A celebration of life will be held at a later date.
On January 22, Village Council chambers was standing-room only as more than 50 citizens crammed into the room, many to express their disapproval for an ongoing disciplinary process involving a local police officer.
Some brought small handmade signs colored green on one side and red on the other, or with smiling faces on the front and frowning faces on the back, using them occasionally during the meeting to signal their support or disapproval of a comment made by a Council member or fellow citizen. There was also occasional clapping in support of a public comment.
The signs were an attempt to comply with Council’s previous requests to not clap or snap in meetings. But in March, Council passed a resolution banning the display of signs in Council chambers. At the same time, Council also officially outlawed clapping as well as “verbal approval or disapproval” during meetings.
“In consideration of citizens speaking on any aspect of a matter, no clapping, verbal approval or disapproval or display of signs is permitted in Council Chambers,” the change to Council rules and procedures reads.
Council members and the Council clerk have defended the rules, saying they keep Council meetings running efficiently, prevent the interruption of sound on the live video feed and help maintain decorum. They also posited that audible and visual audience reactions might be discouraging villagers from speaking opposing views.
Council President Brian Housh said in a recent interview one reason for the rule change is to make Council a more civil and safe space that is “encouraging all people to share their viewpoints.”
“If you’re in the miniority it’s going to be hard to speak up when you realize you are in a room where everyone has a different view,” Housh said.
Almost immediately, some citizens questioned whether Council’s action infringed on their First Amendment right of freedom of speech. In letters-to-the-editor, on social media and in conversations around town, they argued that it was anti-democratic and possibly illegal. Some suggested that Council’s action was in direct response to receiving criticism about Village efforts to discipline the officer and thus an attempt to silence those viewpoints.
Former Council member Judith Hempfling believes that limiting clapping and other expression will not lead to the “vigorous exchange of views” that Council should promote in its meetings. She sees clapping, for one, as a form of expression that should be protected.
“It’s the way in our society we express approval of something,” Hempfling said. “Do we really want to suppress speech to protect it?”
Council members have promised to revisit the issue at an upcoming meeting and gather additional citizen perspectives.
This week, Council Vice President MacQueen shared her perspective on the measure and desire for more feedback on it.
“Every voice needs to be heard and people need to not be intimidated,” MacQueen said of the rationale behind the measure.
But MacQueen added that she was later uncomfortable with the decision Council made to impose the restrictions.
“I would like to see Council and the community come up with guidelines of engagement. I don’t want it to be something that Council imposes.”
This week the News looks at the arguments on both sides of the issue and explores outside legal perspectives on whether Council’s action was in keeping with state and federal law. In an upcoming article, the News will look at how public comments are handled in other public bodies and groups.
A matter of free speech
According to Ohio law, public bodies aren’t required to hear public comments at all during their meetings.
The Ohio Open Meetings Act specifies that citizens have a “right to hear but not to be heard or to disrupt.” The 2018 Ohio Sunshine Law manual explains it this way: “The Open Meetings Act does not provide (or prohibit) attendees the right to be heard at meetings.”
But how much leeway do public bodies have in restricting comments if they allow them?
If public participation at a meeting is allowed, then speakers are protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, courts have found.
According to Elizabeth Bonham, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, “the degree of First Amendment free speech rights depends upon where you are.”
“If I’m on private property, I don’t have free speech rights at all,” Bonham said. “If I am on public property, it depends upon what kind.”
On sidewalks, in city parks and other places where people typically congregate, free speech rights are at their maximum, Bonham said. Those places are called “traditional public forums.”
But what of Council meetings? According to Bonham, they are seen as “limited public forums,” in which the government may regulate the “time, place and manner” of speech. However, there are limits.
“The government has to do it in a way that doesn’t silence a particular type of view,” Bonham said.
According to the Ohio Sunshine Manual, public bodies may limit speech as long as the restrictions are “content neutral” and “narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest.”
Looking at Yellow Springs Village Council’s resolution, Lata Mott, a lawyer and executive director of the First Amendment Center in Washington, D.C., is not sure it passes constitutional muster. The litmus test is whether such restrictions are “content neutral” and have a “reasonable or rational basis,” she said. And she finds problems with the local resolution on both counts.
Although not apparently geared toward stifling certain views, the measure nevertheless seems to take aim at views critical of municipal policies, Mott believes.
“If you allow people to speak but not if they are critical of city policies, that is content discrimination,” she said.
To Mott, the legal difficulty comes with enforcement of the measure. On the face of it the resolution “looks like it’s content neutral.” But Mott worries how it might actually be enforced.
“I can see it not being enforced when people are clapping in admiration of the Council and enforced when they are not clapping in admiration,” Mott said.
In addition, Mott found problems with “rationale or reasonable basis” behind the measure. Specifically, she finds the targeting of signs troubling.
Prior court decisions have upheld measures to curb disruptive behaviors, such as not speaking on topic or making threatening or aggressive statements.
“A disruptive person waives his or her right to attend meetings, and the body may remove that person from the meeting,” the Ohio Sunshine Manual states.
However, Mott finds contradiction in the Village policy on that matter.
“It is not just aimed at disruptive speech,” Mott said. “The signs are less disruptive than clapping. If the basis is to stop disruption, banning signs doesn’t make sense.”
If the signs were impeding the view of other citizens in the meeting, their ban might be justified, Mott added.
When it comes to types of speech covered by the First Amendment, Mott said it has been pretty broadly defined, offering a partial list: “Media, TV, radio, music, dance, hand gestures, burning of the flag, wearing a T-shirt that says something.”
“Clapping and snapping are less weird than those,” Mott said.
Mott also said she also finds the Village’s rules overly vague and broad, which could be problematic.
“Generally when something is overly vague it is going to run into First Amendment issues,” Mott said. “If people aren’t sure what will be banned or not it will have a chilling effect on their speech.”
“It covers a lot of different types of conduct and that makes it hard to know what is allowed or not,” Mott added of the resolution.
In the end, Mott understands that councils don’t want citizens to be afraid to speak in a public meeting. Yet she is hesitant to endorse a policy that “suppresses speech to support it.” While bans on booing and heckling might withstand judicial scrutiny, clapping, she feels, would not.
“Clapping is an approved and traditional way to react to speakers. I don’t think they should ban that.”
The need to regulate public comment
Clerk of Council Judy Kintner believes that all citizens who attend Council meetings should be treated fairly and consistently and should have the opportunity to speak their views. In fact, the new rules are a way to do just that, she wrote in a recent email.
For instance, if clapping is permitted, then booing must also be permitted, since they are both speech, Kintner wrote.
“We do not permit booing, therefore, to be consistent in our message — which should be that anyone has the right to speak, be heard, be treated respectfully — that would mean we would not permit any behavior that would chill that speech,” Kinter wrote.
Kintner sees that such rules are part of Council’s purview, pointing to Section 20 of the Village Charter.
“The Council shall determine its own rules and order of business,” the section reads.
First and foremost, Council meetings are to “conduct the business of Council,” according to Kintner. Public input has its place, and it should be respectfully heard, but not responded to. However, there is a difference between public participation in Council meetings and public input.
“The public is not permitted to participate in Council meetings. They may give input,” Kintner wrote.
The new rules, Kintner believes, will help keep Council meetings in order and give citizens more clear expectations.
“That inconsistency has created problems, as some Council members regularly respond and in some cases disagree with/engage with the speaker,” she wrote.
Council President Housh is a strong supporter of the public comment period in Council meetings, he said in a recent interview.
“This is the norm we’ve set for Yellow Springs and it’s not something I’m going to change while I’m on Council,” Housh said of accepting citizen comments.
“It adds value and it highlights the Village value we have for facilitating public participation,” he added.
At the same time, Housh said, citizens should recognize that Council “has a lot of issues to cover, and there has to be a balance,” which is why he believes other municipalities don’t entertain much public feedback.
“Council is not as efficient as it could be, not that efficiency is the only objective,” Housh said.
Housh also described an email from a citizen who stated they couldn’t hear comments while watching the meeting livestream on YouTube due to the loudness of clapping.
“It was starting to be disruptive,” Housh said of clapping at one meeting in particular, attended by many supporters of the officer. At that point, “I started to reconsider my laissez-fair attitude,” Housh said.
Finally, Housh was moved to consider the measures to make sure that Council is a safe space for a multiplicity of views. Clapping, in particuarly, he finds troubling in a public meeting, except under certain circumstances.
“If it was a rally, [clapping] would be the norm, but I don’t see a solid place for it in a Council meeting, which is ultimately about getting work done,” Housh said.
“I can see clapping about someone getting an award, but not about the sharing of opinions,” he added.
Housh said he doesn’t understand the need to clap, and that when people clap, he is not moved to take their opinoin.
“Packing a room and clapping is not going to convince me or any other Council member that that’s the only perspective,” he said.
Finally, Housh believes that those who think Council is intentionally “shutting down criticism” by enacting the new rules are circulating “disinformation” that they know is not true.
“That is so off base,” he said.
Council Member Kevin Stokes affirmed his belief that Council is not “shutting people down” by passing the measure. He questioned whether it would actually be enforced.
Stokes said the rules were amended because of those who continued to clap even after they were asked to refrain.
“From my perspective, this is just about decorum,” Stokes said. “We wouldn’t be here if the people we asked to stop, stopped.”
At the same time, the measure is not aimed at a certain method of expression.
“It’s not anti-clapping. It’s anti-distrubance,” Stokes said.
Council Vice President MacQueen feels that audience clapping in support of a statement can become a “tyranny of the majority.”
“It makes it difficult to speak other views,” MacQueen said.
But MacQueen wants to hear more from the community about how to have “productive discussions” in Council meetings. She also hopes the community understands the need to balance Council’s official business with a comment period she believes is important.
“Community members should feel like their voice is heard and taken into account. That it’s integrated.”
The next article will explore how other public bodies handle public comments, the guidance from local government associations and alternative expressive methods used by other groups.
This is second in a series of articles looking at the proposed expansion of the Greene County Jail, and the economic, social and human issues surrounding incarceration in the county.
To see what a new Greene County jail complex could look like, travel an hour-and-a-half east to Lancaster, the county seat of Fairfield County, a suburb of Columbus.
After decades of discussion, county officials there built a new jail in 2017, a $34.7 million, 110,000-square-foot facility that brings under one roof three jails and five sheriff’s department locations. The new facility has 384 beds arranged in “pods” of cells or dorms with separate housing for men, women, sex offenders and offenders in solitary confinement. It also features four classrooms for inmate programming such as rehab and re-entry services, which were not previously available at the old facility due to space constraints.
“It’s a modern facility that’s safer and more efficient for everyone involved,” Lieutenant Marc Churchill, Fairfield County’s former jail commander, said this week.
The Fairfield County Jail is one of the models Greene County officials are looking to follow as they consider several options for a new county jail. Local county commissioners and the county sheriff toured the facility in recent months, and came away impressed, according to Greene County Sheriff Gene Fischer.
“It’s a good platform for us,” he said of Fairfield County’s new jail design.
A consulting firm hired by Greene County has so far come up with four possible design options for a new local county jail complex. All of these are larger in scope and cost than the Fairfield County Jail. But the local project could mirror elements of the Fairfield County facility, according to Fischer.
In this next article in the News’ series on plans for a new jail in Greene County, we take a closer look at what options county officials are exploring and the factors behind those options.
Expanding space, beds
A final report from HDR, the Omaha, Neb.-based architectural and engineering firm hired by Greene County to study the local criminal justice system, has yet to be released. But a previous report from January 2019 outlines four design options for county officials to consider, ranging in projected cost from $56.2 million to $71 million. A rebuilt sheriff’s office as part of the same complex would add another estimated $18.9 million to the total project cost, the report shows.
The four options, as presented in the January report, differ mainly in terms of scope — how many beds and how much square footage the facilities contain. Different building configurations and siting possibilities flow from those factors, the report indicates. All four of the new designs would add significant numbers of beds to the county jail system.
Currently, there are 146 beds in Greene County Jail, located in downtown Xenia, and 236 in the Adult Detention Center, or ADC, located about three miles away. That total of 382 beds would be increased substantially under the new plans.
Options 1 and 2 call for renovating the ADC and adding new beds in a new facility. Option 1 calls for 324 new beds, together with the existing 236 beds at the ADC, for a total of 560 beds and 133,375 new square footage. Option 2 calls for 384 new beds, plus the 236 existing beds, for a total capacity of 620 and 150,865 square feet of new space. Option 1 total construction costs are estimated at $56.2 million, while option 2 at $59.1 million.
Options 3 and 4 call for outsourcing the ADC to a rehabilitation services provider and building a single new jail with expanded bed capacity. The options differ by bed counts: option 3 calls for 424 new beds and 165,935 new square feet, while option 4, the largest and most expensive option, calls for 560 new beds and 196,075 new square feet of space. Total construction costs for option 3 are projected at $60.6 million, while option 4 construction costs could come in at $71 million.
The county would site the project on existing county land, either on the ADC site or on another site, according to county officials.
How big should a new county jail be?
Behind the new bed counts and square footage numbers is a key figure: HDR’s estimate of local jail population increases over the next 25 years.
In a previous report from November 2018, the consultants from HDR projected that Greene County’s average daily jail population would increase to 366 by 2035. In 2017, the average daily jail population was about 283, the report shows. Looked at over a 10-year time horizon, that figure has seen fluctuations but no steady increases during the period from 2008 to 2017. In 2008, for example, the average daily jail population was 269, while in 2013, it was 238. Based on the 2008 and 2017 figures only, the average daily jail population rose about 5.6 percent during that span.
By contrast, HDR’s projection assumes a 29 percent rise over 25 years.
HDR’s projection is keyed to a number of factors, the report shows. County population increases, violent crime rates, property crime rates, probation and average length of stay in jail are among these factors. In the 10-year period examined in the report, however, all of these factors saw slight annual declines on average, except for county population and violent crime rates, the latter of which increased, on average, by nearly 2 percent annually.
The county’s incarceration rate is also a factor in the firm’s projection. Greene County has a low incarceration rate relative to national figures, according to the report. The county incarceration rate is 181 individuals per 100,000 of population, while the national rate is 229. In 2017, the county incarceration rate was 169.7. Over the 10 years examined in the report, that rate dipped to as low as 141.8 but was about the same at the starting and ending years.
The HDR consultant did not respond by press time to the News’ request for more specifics on the role of these factors and how the 25-year jail population projection was calculated.
With the projected average daily jail population as a baseline, the HDR report scales up the number of jail beds from that figure. The report assumes a 420-bed minimum for the new facility designs, due to the need to accommodate daily population fluctuations and to maintain a mix of different types of beds to house different segments of the inmate population. Women and men are housed separately, for example, and accused or convicted felons require different housing from those in jail for more minor offenses, county officials have previously said.
A 2016 report by the nonprofit Crime and Justice Institute underscores the difficulty of accurately projecting jail populations. Unlike prisons, “jails face the challenge of a high volume of short stays,” the report states. The variable length of these stays and the impact of future policy changes on arrests and bookings all contribute to the difficulty of anticipating future jail populations, according to the report.
At least one Greene County official doesn’t believe that HDR’s projected average daily population is accurate.
“The consultants’ figures are based on bad information,” Sheriff Fischer said this week.
He believes that the county should plan for even greater growth in its average daily jail population. The last 10 years are not indicative of the county’s true jail population because 120 beds at the ADC were shut down for much of that time due to budget constraints, he said. That meant certain offenders were being released earlier because of lack of space.
“The ADC just came back online and is getting used more and more,” he said.
Fischer favors a new facility with a capacity of at least 500 beds. He noted that the population of women in the county jail has risen sharply, correlated with opioid addiction and related crimes.
“We have seen a drastic increase in the number of females,” he said. As all women inmates are housed in the maximum-security downtown jail, “they are taking some of the prime spots,” he added.
Separate from the HDR study, Fischer is consulting on a preliminary basis with a different architect, Wachtel and McAnally, the firm that designed the Fairfield County Jail.
But another county official, Greene County Commissioner Tom Koogler, cautioned last week that beyond a certain point, building a bigger facility just invites more incarceration.
“If we built 1,000 beds, the judges would fill it in six months,” he said.
He affirmed that the new facility is “the sheriff’s jail,” but also stressed his view that the county should follow the consultants’ advice in scoping the project. And he pointed out that the county has in recent years been working “very hard” to expand the use of probation, drug rehabilitation and other alternatives to jail time.
Area counties expanding jails
Since opening the new jail, Fairfield County has seen an expansion in its prisoner population, according to a Dec. 29, 2017, report in the Lancaster Eagle Gazette. The report cites a “tremendous increase of prisoners into the jail.”
The original downtown jail, built in 1967, had just 27 beds, though it often housed over four times that number of inmates, according to Lt. Churchill. The county previously opened two other jail facilities to increase its total bed capacity, including leasing space from a state prison located nearby.
The new jail has 384 beds for a fluctuating daily inmate population that has gone as high as 360 and stood at 289 inmates, or 75 percent of capacity, on a recent Monday. That figure included 72 female inmates. The facility tripled its housing for female inmates with the recent rebuild, Churchill said.
Fairfield County previously faced lawsuits from inmates because of conditions in the jail, including cell space, that fell short of state jail standards. The county hasn’t seen any lawsuits since the new jail became operational, according to Churchill.
Greene and Fairfield counties are far from alone in pursuing plans to build new jails. Many of Ohio’s 88 counties are expanding or rebuilding their jails, partly in response to rises in drug and drug-related crimes, according to Bob Cornwell, executive director of the Buckeye State Sheriffs’ Association.
“They’re building new and larger facilities,” he said last week.
In our area, Warren County is set to begin construction on a $57 million new jail this summer, to be funded by a five-year, 0.25 percent sales tax increase, while Fayette County voters this week passed a new tax levy to fund the construction of an approximately $20 million new facility. In Montgomery County, a new report by a citizens group recommended replacing that county’s overcrowded and understaffed jail. And in Clark County, a feasibility study of the current and future needs of the Clark County Jail is currently underway.
Further afield, in addition to the new Fairfield County Jail, Franklin County, whose county seat is Columbus, construction has begun on a $400 million-plus new facility.
If the Greene County plan goes forward, county commissioners have said that they expect to put a sales tax increase on the ballot to raise funds for the new jail.
By contrast, Fairfield County did not require a tax increase to finance its jail.
“Building a jail is not cheap,” Lt. Churchill said. “While people may not always want to support jail construction, a jail is a necessary evil.”
The next article in this series will look at inmate demographics and stories of a few individuals who have been held in the Greene County Jail.