By JOY BROWN
On July 7, Betty Taylor’s 19th attempt at being admitted to the Hancock County jail to serve a 10-day sentence was successful.
But on Tuesday, Monica Urdiales, sentenced to serve four days, was turned away for the 18th time because of overcrowding.
The jail continues to struggle with a shortage of beds, particularly for females.
But jail administrators say headway is being made since a new contract between Findlay and Hancock County was signed July 3. Under the contract, prisoners can be transported to other county jails when the Hancock County jail is overcrowded. The city will pay the cost of transporting its prisoners.
A Courier investigation, reported earlier this month, revealed that some people are turned away numerous times when they try to serve jail sentences.
Some have been trying to serve their sentences for more than a year, which has disrupted their jobs, relationships, finances and emotional stability.
Overcrowding has been a problem at the jail for years. Contributing to it is the jail’s policy, prompted by the state’s threat of fines, to keep some beds open for newly-arrested people.
But no one was tallying how many times individuals were being turned away when they tried to serve sentences.
That has changed.
Jail Administrator Ryan Kidwell on Thursday said in recent days, he has been tracking the cases of those rejected this year, taking note of their sentence, counting the number of times they’ve been denied entry, and checking to see if they were finally admitted. Then he’s been double-checking to make sure he didn’t miss anything.
“I’ve went through this year’s turnaway list, person by person, focusing on females,” Kidwell said.
It’s a long list.
Court records from Jan. 1 through June 17 that The Courier reviewed showed 27 men and 45 women tallied 174 rejections, mostly because beds were lacking. Twenty-six had been rejected three or more times since their conviction dates.
On Thursday, Kidwell said he knows of about 28 people who haven’t been able to serve jail time.
Repeating a method he used this spring, Kidwell said he began housing women in a unit that normally holds men on July 7. Eight women can be housed there.
That change enabled Taylor and six other women who reported for incarceration that day to be accepted.
“Luckily, my male population dipped a bit even before July 7. That Monday, it dipped even lower, which enabled me to convert that one unit from male to female,” Kidwell said.
Kidwell also said he has noticed judges are issuing more orders that mandate the jail accept certain convicts when they report to serve their time, regardless of the jail’s housing situation.
As a result of the new city-county jail contract, Hancock County hopes to have an agreement in place within the next few weeks that will again allow for inmates to be transported to the Putnam County jail when the Hancock jail is too full, Kidwell said. That hasn’t happened since 2007.
Kidwell said when inmates are taken to other jails, he’d like to take groups of people who will be serving the same number of days, to save on costs. “So we’d take, say, five people who have to serve 10 days, and then when they’re finished, rotate another group. If we get some rotation started, that’s going to whittle that (turnaway rate) away over several weeks and help us with day-to-day operations. That’s the only way I know how to do it.”
But criminal justice workers here view transporting prisoners to out-of-county jails as a Band-Aid approach to a larger, more complicated problem.
Drug offenses, especially those related to heroin, are expected to keep the courts and the jail busy, and the jail’s existing beds, 80 for men and 18 for women, aren’t going to increase in number anytime soon.