Local jails should be held to standards
New regulations for local jails in Ohio are an improvement over the old rules in some respects. State officials should stand ready to refine some vague terminology, however – and to ensure jails operate by the book.
A committee of state legislators approved the new rules this week. The last update was more than 10 years ago.
Some amendments in requirements for jails were in reaction to local officials complaints the old standards were unrealistic and unnecessarily expensive. For example, the updated rules allow jails to serve prisoners just two meals a day on weekends, rather than the three mandated on weekdays. Inmates now must be allowed to take showers just once every 48 hours.
Medical treatment specifications also have been improved, in part because of suggestions by mental health organizations.
A few of the new rules may require tweaking. For example, the old specification was that temperatures inside jails had to be maintained between 66-80 degrees. The new rule requires only “acceptable comfort levels.” Defining that may prove to be a challenge.
Most important for state officials is ensuring the rules are followed. There are just two state-level inspectors for the 349 jails in Ohio – far below the number needed.
So inadequate is the state’s compliance machinery that, in 2011, it was suggested jail operators should evaluate themselves. That system collapsed after about six months.
More inspectors should be hired, and local jails should be put on a regular schedule of compliance checks. Of course, surprise inspections also should be utilized.
That will cost the state a few hundred thousand dollars – but that is preferable to localities having to pay out millions if they lose “cruel and unusual punishment” lawsuits.