Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Jail Crisis

Pepper Press Release

Heimlich Finally Addresses Jail Issue
After Four Years, Thousands Released Early on His Watch

Hamilton County, Oh [August 21, 2006] Three years and eight months into his four-year term (1,326 days), and after thousands of prisoners have been released over that time, Commissioner Phil Heimlich FINALLY did something on the jail.

He didn’t build it. Construction hasn’t started. There is no location. And there is no real understanding of what it will cost, outside of guesswork. And the original financing scheme he tried to sell to the citizens over recent months has been all but abandoned after strong criticism.

But, lo and behold, 1,326 days into his term, he agreed to put a tax increase on the ballot for the voters to decide.

If the tax increase passes, it will take another four years to actually build the jail.

“I have to give him credit—he finally listened to the rest of us that something needed to be done,” said Candidate for Hamilton County Commissioner David Pepper. “But the fact that four years have passed and this is all that has happened on our top priority is mind-boggling. The result of the mismanagement of this issue since 2002 is millions of dollars wasted (paying Butler County to house prisoners) and high crime.”

Having worked closely with Cincinnati Police on the issue, Pepper began demanding action on the jail years ago, and pledged to solve the problem when he announced his bid for Hamilton County Commission.

Only election-year pressure prompted Heimlich to propose any solution to the jail—an issue he had largely ignored for the past three years. (see attached timeline).

“To have done nothing for four years while our police and citizens have cried out for action is simply not doing your job,” Pepper said. “We will be paying the price of his mismanagement and inaction for years to come.”
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Timeline: The Jail Crisis

Even Phil Heimlich admits that we have known for years that there is insufficient space at the Hamilton County Justice Center. Early in Phil Heimlich’s term, prisoners began to be released early, or not let in the Justice Center at all. That number has now reached almost 9,000.

Despite repeated lip-service, Heimlich failed to act. Mismanaging this issue has led to more crime, and will ultimately cost the taxpayer millions (above and beyond the cost of a new jail).

The Timeline : Years of Inaction and Rhetoric as Prisoners Go Free
· 2003: Phil Heimlich is fully briefed on the need for a new jail when he becomes a County Commissioner

· 2004: First year of early releases—180 inmates released early; 2,361 undergo “process only”June 2, 2004: Heimlich states need for new jail in Cincinnati Enquirer: “There’s nothing more important than having a jail cell for someone who deserved to be locked up for committing a crime.”August 5, 2004: Sheriff is forced to release prisoners due to overcrowding; Heimlich says news jail needed.


· 2005: 266 inmates released early; 4,251 undergo “process only”June 9, 2005: More than one year after saying a new jail is needed, Heimlich votes to spend $161,000 to study if new jail space is needed. Sheriff Leis tells the Enquirer that the study is unnecessary because “we know exactly what we need—we need a jail”December 21, 2005: Not surprisingly, the study “validates what Sheriff Simon Leis and many of the judges are saying about the need for new jail space.” Cincinnati Post, December 21, 2005;

· 2006: 67 inmates released early just through March 27; 1600 undergo “process only”April 5, 2006: Heimlich repeats rhetoric from two years before: “Overcrowding at the jail has been an issue for two decades." Despite repeated promises since 2004, he announces that he needs 60 more days before coming up with jail plan. In the meantime, after doing nothing for three years, the County will begin paying millions to other counties to house Hamilton County prisoners. Of course, none of those dollars will be spent on creating a permanent solution. As The Post summarized: the County’s only solutions are “stopgaps, and rather expensive ones at that. Commissioners need to get off the dime and come up with a permanent solution.”;

· June 6, 2006: With great fanfare, Heimlich announced a 20-year tax increase to pay for jail. Unfortunately, he never informed fellow County Commissioners of his idea. No one seconds his proposal;

· August 21, 2006: Heimlich abandons his failed financing scheme after it endures months of criticism. 1,326 days into his term, he essentially agrees to second his colleague Pat DeWine’s revised tax increase.

Costs: As with the Banks, the costs of mismanagement will ultimately be astronomical:
Millions: Every year that has been wasted (at least three, and counting) will now cost millions in dollars being paid to Butler County in “rent” to house Hamilton County prisoners—and it will take at least three years to build a permanent solution. Based on initial cost projections by the County, this could ultimately reach tens of millions of dollars.

High crime: Police officials, starting with Chief Streicher, blame much of the high crime of the past several years to the “revolving door” at the Justice Center.
**Note** Figures from Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office.


Bridget Doherty
Communications Director
Citizens for Pepper Committee

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