State Considers Changing How Inmates Sleep, Eat & Shower

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UPDATED: Friday March 7, 2014 5:50 PM

New standards would change the way tens of thousands of Ohio inmates are treated in county jails across the state.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction is considering changes that would affect how inmates are fed, where they sleep and even how often they shower.

Nearly 70 prisoners are housed inside the Main Street jail in Fairfield County. Built in 1968, the facility is old and overcrowded.

"I can't move walls - I can't create more day space where none can possible exist," said Jail Administrator Lt. Marc Churchill. "But there are other areas of the facility that I can improve, such as many updating a security system within the facility."

The changes now being considered statewide would allow sheriffs to limit prisoners to two meals a day on weekends, provide for showers once a day, and shorten visitation time.

The proposed standards are, in part, a response to strained budgets and the increased costs associated with a growing number of inmates -- which now exceeds 20,000 prisoners in jails statewide.

Hancock County Sheriff Michael Heldman chairs the committee that came up with the new rules.

"This is something that every jail is experiencing," said Sheriff Heldman. "I think there's only a few jails in Ohio that have room that will take inmates from other counties."

He says the standards would improve treatment of mentally ill inmates, and reduce mandatory training for jail employees.

But opponents say now is the time to strengthen standards, not relax them.

"I believe that current rules and procedures that are specifically designed to cause discomfort or pain are -- and should be -- against the law," said Howard Harris, who testified at a public hearing on Friday.

The rules would go into effect in all 349 Ohio jails.

In Fairfield County, where a new jail is set to open in 2016, jail standards are designed to exceed state minimums, not simply meet them.

"We just can't strip them of their rights. So, it's important for people to realize that -- they're still human beings," said Lt. Churchill.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction doesn't run local jails, but is responsible for creating rules and inspecting jails.

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