Cranley Blocks Jail Plan
Cincinnati officials delayed a decision Wednesday on a plan to offer $6 million to Hamilton County for creating a temporary jail to handle prisoner overcrowding and stop early releases while the county decides how to build a permanent structure.
Cincinnati City Council voted 5-4 to refer the proposal back to its Law and Public Safety Committee for further review. Because council is on summer break and doesn’t meet again until Sept. 7, a decision is unlikely until sometime this fall.
Councilwoman Leslie Ghiz blamed the delay on the swing vote cast by Councilman John Cranley, usually a close political ally of Ghiz. Cranley is campaigning against Republican Steve Chabot for Ohio’s 1st Congressional District seat and is afraid of upsetting West Side voters, Ghiz said.
“John sold the city out for the sake of his congressional campaign,” an angry Ghiz said after the council meeting.
Cranley, however, said it didn’t make sense to proceed until county commissioners and Sheriff Simon Leis Jr. endorsed the plan.
“I would urge that we take our time with this,” Cranley said.
Ghiz countered that is precisely what the proposal offered by her and Councilman Jeff Berding did. It would have authorized the city manager to enter negotiations with county officials about erecting temporary tent-like structures on the site of the old City Workhouse on Colerain Avenue in Camp Washington. The facilities, which already are used in Ohio in Lima and Grafton County, are made of aluminum frames with polyurethane coverings fortified by a concrete base. They could be erected in as short as three months and house up to 800 prisoners, Ghiz and Berding said.
Any plan for building a permanent jail, the pair noted, would take at least three years to construct and possibly longer.
“It should’ve been done today,” Ghiz said. “What we’ve done today with this vote is prove the county right that we can’t get our act together.”
Ghiz, Berding, Chris Bortz and Laketa Cole supported beginning negotiations for the temporary jail; Cranley, David Crowley, Chris Monzel, Jim Tarbell and Cecil Thomas were opposed.
Ghiz and Berding hoped to make their proposal a priority in the next city budget and begin negotiations with county commissioners and Leis, who remain skeptical about the approach. Under state law, county officials must pay for and operate the jail, but some council members say the issue particularly affects Cincinnati because that’s where most of the early releases of prisoners occur.
County commissioners are debating whether to place a quarter-cent sales tax increase on the Nov. 7 ballot to pay for constructing a new jail, a plan that has Leis’ support. The deadline to put the item on the ballot is Aug. 24. Ghiz and Berding said that once commissioners approve the ballot item and Leis sees that a permanent solution is on the horizon, the sheriff would be more amenable to the city’s interim step.
An average of 22 prisoners are released before their sentences are completed each day due to a lack of available cells at the Hamilton County Justice Center, Berding said.
This spring, Hamilton County began housing up to 200 prisoners per day at the Butler County Jail, at a cost of $65 per day for each prisoner. On Wednesday, Butler County offered to make another 200 beds available at a discounted cost of $55 per day.
The annualized cost of this would be approximately $8 million plus transportation and public defender costs, county administrators said.
— Kevin Osborne