Saturday, August 14, 1999

Tent jail relieves crowding

But cooler weather soon will close it

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — The first two weeks of placing inmates under a tent has relieved some of the overcrowding at Butler County's maximum- and minimum-security jails.

        But there are still more inmates than beds at the Butler County Jail, and the outdoor tent jail experiment will end in two weeks, Capt. Norman Lewis, jail warden, said Friday.

Tent to come down
        Assigning 15 inmates to the tent inside the complex of Resolutions, a minimum-security jail on Hanover Street in Hamilton, has enabled the sheriff's department to transfer some inmates from the county jail to Resolutions. It also has allowed Resolutions inmates to avoid sleeping on floor mattresses, Capt. Lewis said.

        “It's definitely helped,” he said.

        But Sheriff Harold Don Gabbard plans to take down the tent at the end of August because the nights become too cool in September to have inmates sleeping outside.

        “We've made no provisions for heating the tent,” Capt. Lewis said.

        The 28-by-14-foot tent has six fans.

        This week, the county jail's population has been in the 190s and Resolutions' has been 255. There are 168 beds in the county jail, located on Court Street in downtown Hamilton, and 241 in Resolutions.

        Sheriff Gabbard wanted to set up a tent jail last year because of the overcrowded condition of the county jail. But he wasn't able to obtain permission from the Ohio Department of Corrections.

        This summer, he decided to put up the tent without seeking the state's permission. The county plans to build a new jail, but it won't be ready for more than two years.

        State corrections inspector Chuck Bailey inspected the tent last week. He said Friday that he will issue a report next week. There are tent jails scattered throughout the country, usually in warm-weather states, but there are no other ones in Ohio.

County saving money
        Hamilton health and fire officials also inspected the tent last week.

        Hamilton Health Commissioner Dr. William Karwisch said the health inspector detected no major problems.

        The sheriff will have to move some extension cords, place a fire extinguisher in the tent and add more trash receptacles, he said.

        “The sanitation was adequate, and the general conditions were fine,” Dr. Karwisch said. “We haven't had any complaints from the inmates in the tent.”

        The tent jail is saving the county about $600 a day, Capt. Lewis said.

        “It would cost us $60 per day per inmate to house them in a jail outside the county,” he said.

        At first, the sheriff's department placed only those inmates in the tent who had volunteered. But not all of the inmates in the tent now have volunteered for it, Capt. Lewis said.

        There have been no complaints from inmates and a generally positive public reaction, he said.

        The tent is not visible from the street.

        Sheriff Gabbard, Capt. Lewis and other department officials slept inside the tent on July 30, during the heat wave, to test it. The next day, they started placing inmates.

        Sheriff Gabbard received a congratulatory letter this week for his experiment from Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona.

        Sheriff Arpaio is a pioneer in the use of tents for housing inmates. His “tent city” is a fenced compound of 80 tents.


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