MOUNT VERNON — The economic recession has been a rough road for governmental organizations everywhere, calling for extreme belt-tightening and cutting of programs. In Ohio, one group that has been hit hard is county sheriff’s offices. Richland County is embroiled in threatened legal action between Sheriff Steve Sheldon and the Richland Board of Commissioners over a layoff of three-quarters of the county’s road patrol officers.
Creative funding boosts are becoming the order of the day in many counties. In Morrow County, by housing prisoners for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Sheriff Steve Brenneman has been able to hire back some of the staff that budget shortfalls forced him to lay off.
“Our staffing level had dropped to well under half of minimum,” Brenneman said. “If we had not obtained this contract, we would have had to close our jail.”
Funding from the county this year for the Morrow County Sheriff’s Department is just over $500,000 Brenneman said, while expenses for 2006, before the reductions of the recent recession years, totaled $1,954,000. Brenneman hopes to see revenue of $900,000 to $1 million come in from holding the detainees for ICE.
The detainees being housed are illegal immigrants who are in the process of being deported. Brenneman said most of the ones housed at the Morrow County Jail in Mount Gilead speak at least some English. There are interpreting services available by telephone when needed. Already having been convicted, the prisoners do not have to be transported to federal court.
Knox County Sheriff David Barber said he has been going through a time-consuming, months-long, process to get approval to house federal prisoners for the U.S. Marshal’s Service. Although he said the process has included considerable evaluation and negotiation about transporting prisoners to federal court in Columbus, the process should lead to the Knox County Sheriff’s Office being used to house prisoners who don’t have to be shipped often to court. Barber said the program may start later this year, providing supporting revenue to the KCSO. Barber said that although he has spoken previously with Brenneman about Morrow County housing ICE prisoners, he has not pursued it himself.
“I prefer at this time to only deal with one federal agency at a time,” Barber said.