Summit County should hire about 50 more workers for its jail or shut down portions of the facility, a national jail expert says.
The county cannot keep operating the jail the same way with the same amount of staff, said Rod Miller, who runs Community Resource Services Inc. in Gettysburg, Pa.
“You can’t run the whole jail safely and do that,” he said. “You just can’t.”
The jail is operating with 205 workers, but a minimum of 258.9 are needed — even with some recommended operational changes, according to a new report Miller completed.
The 94-page report — filled with numbers and graphics — is part of a federal consent decree aimed at improving safety, security and working conditions at the facility. It was submitted for review and comments last week to the U.S. Department of Justice and the female Summit County deputies who successfully sued in federal court over gender-related staffing issues.
Miller said in a telephone interview that the number of employees he has proposed is a “minimum staffing plan.”
“It’s not a number that I pulled out of the air,” he said.
Other options are closing portions of the jail or adding even more workers, he said.
Miller said that he worked with the sheriff’s office and county leaders when developing the report, so there should be no surprises for them.
The female deputies who were part of the lawsuit are reviewing the report.
“We think this is a serious issue, and we really want it to come out right,” said attorney Bruce Elfvin, who represented the deputies. He said his focus will be on the plan’s impact on gender equality.
It’s unclear when the Department of Justice will begin analyzing the report because of the federal shutdown.
Sheriff Steve Barry did not return a call seeking comment. County Executive Russ Pry’s administration declined comment.
If all sides can’t agree on how to run the facility, it would fall on federal Judge Sara Lioi to decide. She handled the suit by the female deputies, who were later joined by the Department of Justice.
Staff needs addressed
The jail, opened in 1990 on East Crosier Street in Akron and later added onto, houses more than 600 inmates each day, including violent felons.
Sheriff’s officials have grumbled about jail staffing — and staffing levels in general — since county cutbacks in 2009 trimmed their ranks.
Earlier this year, Barry publicly said it is becoming too dangerous for staff and inmates at the jail. He also started advocating for an increase in the local sales tax so he can hire more workers.
There has been no public discussion among county leaders about that idea since Barry brought it up.
County Councilman John Schmidt, who oversees the Public Safety Committee, declined to comment on the report itself but said he has faith in Barry.
“I have complete confidence in Sheriff Barry’s recommendations,” he said. “If he says we need to increase staffing, then I believe him.”
The question, though, is where the county would find the money.
Adding 50 workers — civilians, deputies, lieutenants and captains — as the report recommends would be costly. Without comment from the county, it’s unclear exactly how much it would involve.
At $29.6 million this year, the sheriff’s office is the county’s biggest general fund expense.
Of that, corrections costs make up $19.3 million.
Miller’s report examines more than just the number of workers. He also looked at policies and procedures to improve conditions, and even the design of the facility itself.
For example, he does not believe many people arriving at the jail should be classified as violent or nonviolent right away, considering the majority are released within 72 hours.
Other recommendations include adding captains and better merging of the operations of the jail and the county-run Glenwood Jail, a minimum-security facility in Akron.
Some of the proposed changes would involve receiving buy-in from unions, he said.
Miller also noted that inmates haven’t received recreation time for years because of low staffing levels, and that must change.
“I was shocked. I really was,” he said, adding that a lack of recreation is a significant violation.
One of the problems for the county is the jail design, Miller said. The facility was built for direct supervision, with a worker overseeing a pod of inmates.
But the pods are small by today’s standards, and the jail interior is like a labyrinth, meaning it needs more workers to operate and is thus more expensive to run, Miller said.
“It was a showplace jail in Ohio when it was built,” he said. “The field has evolved since then.
“They do a really good job with what they have,” he added. “They are spread very thin. Spatially, they are spread thin. They run a good jail. It’s a good jail. It has some standard compliance problems, but there are a lot worse jails around.”
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org.