Now that an update of Ohio’s minimum jail standards is nearly complete, the Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections must ensure jails comply with the new rules.
The state has a spotty jail inspection record at best. Relatively few have occurred since 2008. In 2011, corrections officials asked jails to evaluate themselves, a bad idea that lasted about six months.
Hancock County Sheriff Mike Heldman, as chairman of the Ohio Jail Advisory Board, has overseen a rewrite of the standards that apply to 349 city and county jails.
The standards, in the works for two years, establish rules for most all jail operations, including classification of inmates, security, housing, medical, food service and visitation. The number of proposed standards has been reduced to 180 from 249.
The standards could be approved Monday by the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review, which includes 10 legislators. Jail officials would then have 90 days to adjust to any committee-approved changes.
The standards were in need of a revision. They were first created in the 1970s, but had not been updated since 2003.
The updates, among other things, will allow jails to serve two meals a day to inmates on weekends, require jails to offer showers to inmates at least every 48 hours, and keep jail temperatures at “acceptable comfort levels.” The current standard requires that the temperature be maintained between 66 and 80 degrees.
Some standards were modernized due to technology. For example, inmates’ emails can now be inspected, like all other mail.
Others appear to be rewritten due to rising costs. Correctional officers’ followup training would be reduced from 24 hours to eight hours. Training for other staff, such as physicians and clerks, would be reduced from 40 hours in the first year and 16 hours each subsequent year to 24 hours during the first year and two hours each subsequent year.
Another update reflects a greater awareness of mental health issues by requiring a trained professional to screen inmates upon entering the jail for suicidal thoughts and plans, and serious medical or mental health needs.
Monitoring compliance with jail standards remains with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, which runs the prison system, but not the jails, which are locally operated.
Enforcing the standards will be a challenge, however, with just two employees now assigned to inspect 92 full-service jails, 13 minimum-security jails, 90 12-day jails, 18 12-hour jails and 136 temporary holding jails.
The size of the inspection staff may need to increase if the state is serious about improving jail oversight. It should be. Failing to conduct compliance checks could jeopardize inmates’ health and safety, and lead to more costly lawsuits.
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