Leis Wants Permanent, Not Tent, Jail

As Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis Jr. faced reporters’ questions this morning about jail overcrowding issues, he got one piece of information about a possible solution wrong and didn’t address another crucial issue involving a proposed sales tax hike.

At the press conference, Leis stressed the urgent need to build a new county jail. An average of 22 prisoners are released daily due to a lack of available jail space.

“What you have to understand is we’ve been in this crisis mode for the last 10 or 12 years, and it will continue until we have a new jail,” Leis said.

County commissioners have mulled building another jail since at least 1986. In June, Commission President Phil Heimlich proposed putting a quarter-cent sales tax increase before voters on the Nov. 7 ballot. If approved, the increase would last for 20 years.

The other two commissioners have their own proposals. Commissioner Pat DeWine has said a quarter-cent sales tax hike might be needed, but he prefers it to last for a shorter period of time, perhaps eight years. Commissioner Todd Portune has said a half-cent increase for five years might be preferable because it involves paying less debt.

Commissioners must decide on a plan by Aug. 24 to qualify for the Nov. 7 ballot.

Leis downplayed concerns that a sales tax increase would hit poor people and renters the hardest, adding most county residents could absorb the additional burden without a problem.

“A quarter-cent sales tax is hardly going to affect them at all,” he said.

Moreover, Leis dismissed a proposal by some Cincinnati City Council members to erect temporary tent-like jail structures made of aluminum and polyurethane in Camp Washington to house up to 800 prisoners. The so-called “bubble jails” could be erected in about three months; it will take three to five years to build a new permanent jail.

“They are totally impractical,” Leis said. “You got to have the infrastructure to support them.”

The sheriff doubted that such structures would meet state standards for jails, but the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction already has approved their use in Lima, which has used them since the early 1990s.

Also, Leis didn’t address whether county commissioners should quicken the new jail’s construction by simply raising the sales tax themselves. Under Ohio law, commissioners can unilaterally raise the tax by a quarter-cent without a vote of residents. Some critics of Heimlich’s plan point out the overcrowding crisis will continue if voters reject the sales tax increase and further delay any solution.

After talks with consultants and engineers, however, Leis finally has agreed that any new jail cannot be built next to the Justice Center downtown due to space constraints.

“It just can’t be done. … We need to go somewhere where we have a number of acres,” he said.

Leis declined to publicly identify possible sites.

— Kevin Osborne

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3 Comments on “Leis Wants Permanent, Not Tent, Jail”

  1. lame Says:

    privately, Leis is furious that Heimlich won’t just pass the tax himself. He knows he’s being used to help get Heimlich reelected–and he hates Heimlich.

  2. one advocate Says:

    i think one aspect of jail populations not being discussed outwardy is work release – most of these offenders could become or remain productive members of society through such program – and the tent jail would be a good overnight only strategey.
    where’s the imagination?

  3. Peter Deane Says:

    The vera report is consistantly saying… don’t have enough information. That thing cost us 250,000 for 33 stupid pages.

    Why didn’t they look into if any of these offenders were regualar members of 20/20.

    Are we overlooking that we as a community are most likely failing with the institution of 20/20. What are they doing for the children there? I’d wager that most repeat offenders have stepped inside 20/20 long before they ever see the inside of the adult jail.

    But nobody is saying anything.

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