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Ohio County Jail Overcrowded, Understaffed and On Verge of 'Catastrophe'

The results of a September 2013 inspection of the Hamilton County Jail in Cincinnati, Ohio, revealed that the facility failed to adequately meet 48 of 69 standards set by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC).

In a letter to Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil, ODRC State Jail Inspector Gregory Dann wrote that the facility failed to provide enough space for prisoners in double-occupancy cells, while all cells lacked natural light, some lacked access to toilets, and the jail's pharmacy was left unsecured.

The jail is "overcrowded," Dann wrote, with the 1,288 prisoners incarcerated on the date of the inspection grossly exceeding the facility's recommended housing capacity of 865.

As a result, "female prisoners were observed sleeping on the jail floor in a female housing unit with only a blanket," inspectors noted. Two male prisoners who had been held in the jail for about 12 hours "were not provided a mattress, linens or hygiene items," Dann wrote.

Additionally, double-bunked cells measured just 80 square feet each, while the state requires a minimum of 100 square feet of space for stacked bunks and 110 square feet of space for two single beds in a double occupancy cell. The additional bunks, inspectors said, must be removed in order to bring the jail into compliance.

"Steps must be taken to ensure prisoner numbers are maintained at approved levels," Dann added. Forcing prisoners to sleep on the floor "encroach[es] on the available day and living spaces for every inmate in these areas."

"The facility is overcrowded and the practice of housing inmates in the day spaces of celled housing units should cease immediately," Dann wrote.

Making matters worse, the inspection revealed, the jail is understaffed, and "there is not enough security staff to safely operate the jail." The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office (HCSO), according to Dann, must hire enough personnel to ensure supervision, programming, custody, and support services including medical and food service.

The inspection results paired with the findings of a January 2013 audit of HCSO paint a picture of an archaic facility and deficient department flagrantly failing to meet the needs of both prisoners and taxpayers.

The audit, written by former Cincinnati Police Chief Tom Streicher and civil rights attorney Scott Greenwood at the request of Neil soon after he took over as sheriff, said that HCSO's operational issues have left it "frozen in time" and "one step away from a catastrophe."

Blasting Neil's predecessor—former sheriff Simon Leis Jr., who led HCSO for 25 years—the audit found that Leis' "failure to identify, train and promote up-and-coming leaders," along with continuous reductions in staff, have left HCSO with "a truly bare-bones staff."

"Bluntly," the audit said, "HCSO is one serious confrontation away from a catastrophe—a riot, or a deputy, civilian employee, visitor, or an inmate killed—due to its understaffed correctional facilities."


Sources:;; Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction,

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