By EILEEN MCCLORY
A Hancock County grand jury has issued a report describing overcrowding at the county jail as “disheartening.”
Grand juries are given a tour of the jail on a quarterly basis.
The jurors then typically comment on the tour, Hancock County Prosecutor Phil Riegle said.
This grand jury’s comment this week said: “More space is obviously necessary for housing inmates. The fact that the holding cells, drunk tank and other specifically-designed facilities are now being used simply as cells for overflow inmates is quite disheartening.”
The grand jury also said the jail library needs more books, and questioned if shatterproof plexiglass could replace broken windows.
The grand jury also complimented jail employees on their professionalism and said the jail seems “well maintained” and “well designed from a safety perspective.”
Hancock County Sheriff Mike Heldman, whose department includes the jail, said the report did not surprise him.
Heldman said the jail’s holding cells are almost always full now, because inmates with mental health and other problems need to be separated from the rest of the jail population.
The sheriff also said a broken window seen by the jurors is not a safety issue, and a replacement is on order.
“What is good about the grand jury coming through is that the public is seeing this,” Heldman said.
He said previous grand jury tours of the jail also have noted the overcrowding problem.
Heldman said about 125 people were being held by the Hancock County justice system on Wednesday morning.
According to a Findlay Municipal Court report, 103 of those people were housed in the Hancock County jail, 16 were housed in the Putnam County jail, three were in Wood County and three were in Van Wert County.
When the Hancock County jail is full, the sheriff’s office has to pay to house prisoners in other county jails.
In addition to housing prisoners in Putnam, Wood and Van Wert counties, Hancock County has contracted with Mercer and Paulding counties for jail housing.
Riegle said the grand jury report reflects what criminal justice officials in Hancock County have been saying for a while.
“We have a jail that isn’t meeting the needs of the community,” he said.
Voters rejected a proposed sales tax increase in November that would have funded an expansion of the jail, jail maintenance, and construction of a new county office building.
The Hancock County commissioners recently indicated they are considering a sales tax for prisoner housing.