The number of inmates released early from Greene County jail facilities this year is rapidly growing and will easily surpass last year’s totals, according to data from the county corrections division.
In January alone, 17 early releases were recorded marking the second highest number of early releases over a five year period.
The number of inmates released early started to grow in 2011 —two years after Greene County Sheriff Gene Fischer closed part of the adult detention center and laid off corrections officers due to budget cuts.
Earlier this month Fischer said he planned to ask county commissioners to add to his $11.8 million budget for the year so he can hire more corrections officers to re-open part of the detention center — two pods that hold 60 inmates each.
“That’s 60 more people each they could put in jail,” said Maj. Kirk Keller, the county jail administrator. “So what happens is people get put on the street without serving a full punishment.”
Thirty inmates incarcerated on charges filed in Fairborn or Xenia municipal courts have been released early this year, according to the sheriff’s office. That number is almost equivalent to the total number of early releases last year, 31, and an increase over the 26 early releases reported in 2011.
This data does not include early inmate releases related to domestic relations juvenile cases.
“Everyday is a challenge to balance our limited jail space with who am I going to use the limited jail space for,” said Xenia Municipal Court Judge Michael Murry.
When Murry was elected to the bench in 2008, the county jail in downtown Xenia held up to 148 beds. The county minimum security adult detention center on Greeneway Boulevard held 236.
A year later, the sheriff’s office laid off 11 corrections officers and closed half of the space available for inmates which reduced the number of beds to 116 beds, according to a corrections division report.
“As a judge I will deal with the space I have,” Murry said, “but the reality is some people have to be locked up.”
It’s not unusual for county incarceration facilities to reach full capacity, Murry said. Each day, he reviews a list of inmates, the percentage of their sentence served and their offense to determine who he can set free to make room for new inmates. Domestic violence offenders and repeat OVI offenders don’t stand a chance.
“Domestic violence is a safety issue for the victim,” Murry said. “Repeat OVI is a safety factor for anybody on the road.”
Jail time gives inmates a chance to think about their lives, how they live and the choices they have made, he said.
“It’s something about having that liberty taken away that can be a tremendous motivator to confront the demons (drugs or alcohol),” Murry said.
“It’s the get their attention element,” he said.
Judge Beth Root in Fairborn Municipal Court, like Murry in Xenia, uses alternatives to jail. Root said the limited number of beds is a consideration when she issues a sentence; jail time, no jail time or a hybrid of the two are all fair game.
She doesn’t fault the corrections division, who by law has the authority to release inmates early, but she questioned the impact of a partially-served sentence.
“I want to make sure it’s an effective sentence and not a meaningless sentence,” Root said.
Root said she changed her philosophy on sentencing when space for inmates in the county shrunk. She considers other factors that may have contributed to a person committing the crime such as drugs or alcohol and whether another form of punishment will better serve them. For example, depending on the individual and circumstances, she may lean more toward putting a drug or alcohol offender on house arrest instead of incarceration.