New guidelines for Ohio’s county jails

New standards approved earlier this month for Ohio jails went into effect April 20. But the changes will have only minor effects on the Washington County Jail, where most of the new policies were already being observed and reduced standards will in many cases be ignored.

For example, the Washington County Jail will not be decreasing the number of meals served on weekends and holidays, despite a revised set of minimum Ohio jail standards giving them the option, said Lt. Brad Thorpe, Washington County Jail Administrator.

Under the old rules, inmates were to receive three daily meals with no more than 14 hours between them. Now jails can serve one less meal per day on weekends, holidays, and in emergency situations.

“I will ensure you that everybody here will be three meals a day,” said Thorpe.

Thorpe also plans on pushing for more continuing education hours for officers than that required by the new standards. The reduction of required continuing education hours from 24 per year to eight per year is a concern for Thorpe, who noted that officers need to stay on top of a continually changing field.

“There’s a wide array of training available. With technology and changes, to keep up with that I don’t think eight hours is sufficient,” said Thorpe.

Thorpe speculated that the requirement was lowered because of funding and time constraints put on some jails.

While the 25 correction officers who fall under continuing education requirements may not continue to get the full 24 hours they used to receive, Thorpe intends to use multiple training opportunities to get them past eight hours. On site and online training programs offer affordable, sometimes even free, options for corrections officers’ continuing education, he said.

Other much talked about rule changes, such as a policy making inmate e-mails subject to review by jail staff, are not applicable at the county jail, said Thorpe.

“That particular point doesn’t affect us now, but would if we ever had that technology,” he said.

In effect, the e-mail rule simply expands upon an already set policy that allows jail staff to review the content of mail sent and received by inmates.

Requirements increasing the focus on inmates with mental health issues has been widely praised by mental health agencies throughout the state.

The new standards call for mental health screenings during the inmate intake process and 24-hour access to mental health care, both of which the Washington County Jail already has, said Thorpe.

“We have policies in procedures in place currently. There’s a question process that’s asked upon the book-in process,” he said.

The jail also offers access to mental health care through weekly visits and on call service provided by L & P Services.

These screenings and mental health care access are important resources for inmates, said Jessica Fox, Alcohol and Drug Treatment Program Director for L & P Services.

“(Prison) would be a stressful environment and it is helpful for (inmates) to have access to mental health services,” said Fox.

In addition to a counselor who provides weekly individual counseling at the jail, a crisis staff member is available for on call situations, said Fox.

“If the jail calls us and would just like somebody’s mental health evaluated to determine whether they are suicidal or able to be put in the general population, we have a counselor that provides those services,” she said.

Some small things at the jail will change. An increase in the time prisoners can be kept in holding cells will give jail staff an extra four hours to keep an inmate in a holding cell before releasing or transferring that inmate to general population.

The shift from an eight hour maximum in a holding cell to a 12 hour maximum will likely be most beneficial at larger, more crowded jails where prisoner booking can get backed up.

While this has not been a prevalent issue at the Washington County Jail, it will likely be helpful on busy days, said Thorpe.