Almost 1,000 offenders have been released early or turned away from the Warren County Jail in southwestern Ohio since 2001 because of overcrowding, reports the Cincinnati Enquirer. Sheriff Tom Ariss’ pleas for a jail addition have fallen on deaf ears – even though inmates started to outgrow the current jail four years after it opened in 1996. Felons have taken over just about every space in the 197-bed jail. Drunken drivers and people who are sentenced on misdemeanor charges can’t land a spot to serve their time. Arrestees can’t be booked into the jail unless they’ve committed domestic violence or the most serious crimes. Ariss says he needs about 300 more jail beds to keep up with population growth through the next four years.
Finding enough jail space to keep offenders off the street – and enough money to build them – have been a struggle for jails across greater Cincinnati. Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis wants 800 more beds, and Kenton County faces a lawsuit involving overcrowding. The problem is pressing in Warren County, where population is exploding at the second-fastest pace in the state. The county is among the top 100 fastest-growing in the nation. In one example, Richard Lee Barker spent the last three years drinking and driving, slapping women around, and making threats with his knife. When the Warren County Jail got too full in February 2005, he was one of the first inmates to be released, even though a judge had ordered him jailed on a contempt charge for assaulting someone while he was on probation for a DUI. Three weeks later, he was under arrest for for chasing a man with a knife and threatening to kill him over a woman.