NELSONVILLE, Ohio (WCMH) — Citizens of Nelsonville are “beyond frustrated” with a regional jail built inside the city limits that often refuses to take inmates from Nelsonville police.
The problem is compounded when people discharged from the jail have nowhere to go and walk into the town with little money, say city officials. And when they are addicts looking for a fix, they’re sucked into a vicious cycle.
Police Chief Scott Fitch says the Southeastern Ohio Regional Jail (SEORJ) often won’t take people Nelsonville PD arrests. He says it “empowers the criminal” and it’s “a problem we face on a daily basis.”
“Good citizens of Nelsonville will contact the police department, and we will respond, investigate, and ultimately somebody gets arrested, but we have nowhere to keep them. Moments later … that person they know was arrested, that they know had committed a crime … they’re walking down the street again. It continuously empowers the criminal,” Fitch said.
According to statistics provided by the jail, in a six-month period ending Jan. 31, the jail accepted only 58 inmates from Nelsonville but 389 from the Athens County Sheriff. Everyone pays the same rate, $55 or $65 per prisoner per night, depending on jail space, says SEORJ Warden Joshua VanBibber.
The following figures are provided by VanBibber. They show admissions from Nelsonville and its neighbors in the six months from August to January. It also shows payments for bed fees. (Note: It’s not a comprehensive list of all agencies who use the jail. NBC asked VanBibber and chairman of the jail commission Charlie Adkins for a copy of the SEORJ annual report, but no annual report was given.)
- Athens County Sheriff, 389 inmates, $514,274.73
- Hocking County Sheriff, 262 inmates, $487,470.49
- Logan PD, 112 inmates, $124,027.25
- Athens PD, 74 inmates, $8,204.00
- Nelsonville PD, 58 inmates, 4,255.00
According to jail records provided by VanBibber, from August to January, 1,377 inmates were released.
If someone doesn’t have a ride home, they often “walk down the hill” and take up residence in the town until they either find a way out or decide to stay, says City Manager Scott Frank.
“In terms of the jail, one of the things that I’ve heard about since returning, and in this job, are folks coming down the hill from the jail with nowhere to go,” said Frank, who has been in the job for about a year.
“Right after I started this job, someone came into Rocky Boots and told the clerk, ‘You’re either going to give me a pair of free boots or I’m going to steal them.’ And sure enough, they didn’t give him a pair of boots and he stole them.
“There seems to be a problem with the people coming out of the jail having no shoes. Of course, there is no way to charge their phones, so they go dead. … Oftentimes, of those who do return home, they need an outlet to call for help. But it’s those people who don’t have that, they get stuck here.
“The citizens of Nelsonville who have been here for quite some time feel that it’s very burdensome. They don’t understand why, and they are beyond frustrated,” Frank said.
Fitch said: “If people who are released are drug dependent, and they have $17 or $18 in their pockets and no way to get somewhere else, if they are an addict, the first thing they want to do is score. And then they are truly a resident of Nelsonville.”
VanBibber said in a telephone conversation that people have rights when they leave the jail doors and that he doesn’t track where they go once they are released.
“If someone is released from the facility directly out the door, they can make a phone call, and walk, or wait for a ride. This is standard practice in Ohio, by and large. A lot of times there are people waiting in the parking lot.”
However, there is no exit survey for prisoners, so no one knows the exact number of former prisoners from SEORJ who walk down the hill and end up in Nelsonville.