Fails in the jail

Lt. Mike Lewis explains on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, how the jail in the Kent Police Department does not meet safety compliances to be a safely functioning jail. Photo by Rachael Le Goubin.

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Video by Raven Brinson.

Kent built its current jail in the 1950s: three cells long, vertical bars to hold inmates on the first floor of the Police Department, along with a separate room for women or juvenile inmates.

Nearly 60 years later, the jail doesn’t look too different from when it debuted.

This past April, the Kent City Jail failed to meet 42 of 68 compliance standards during the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction’s inspection in April, according to Ohio Revised Code.

Kent Lt. Mike Lewis, who served as the jail’s facility administrator during the state’s inspection, said it could potentially be shut down or sued if any individual is injured or assaulted in the facility.

“If someone is hurt back here, we’re really at risk,” Lewis said. “We have had employees who have been assaulted by prisoners, and we aren’t able to adequately separate our staff from violent prisoners — it’s just some of the risks we run into here.”

Lewis said some problems in the jail include unsanitary restroom facilities, dingy lighting and lack of space.

“You can tell by looking around the jail it’s far from a modern facility and doesn’t match the photographs of a modern jail,” Lewis said.

ODRC officials wrote in an email that some of the bigger problems with the jail involved failure to meet health and life safety standards. Below are some of the issues the state cited:

  • Jail capacity: The jail is only supposed to house seven inmates at a time, but there have been as many as 30 inmates in the jail cells on higher arrest nights because of lack of cell space for inmates.
  • Medical procedures: Kent’s jail had insufficient policies and procedures on how to care for inmates when medical issues were involved.
  • Suicide prevention training: Although the jail has methods of helping suicidal inmates, no training was provided to staff regarding this issue in 2012.
  • Separation of violent and nonviolent inmates: The jail has no policies regarding how to house violent and nonviolent inmates separately.

Lewis said one of the most pressing issues is the small size of the jail, which he called inadequate for the total of 2,559 men, women and juvenile inmates who passed through the jail in 2012.

“The prisoners we arrest must have 60 square feet of cell space for one to three prisoners,” he said. “What we have to work with now is 42 square feet of cell space.”

He said this is not sufficient space to house inmates on heavier arrest nights such as Halloween or College Fest. Last Halloween, police records reported 59 individuals were arrested in Kent between Oct. 27 and 28.

Gavin Lovejoy, a freshman communications studies and business major at Kent State, said he was one of the 59 people arrested last Halloween.

“When I got booked in, it was 4 a.m. already, so I had to stand,” Lovejoy said. “Elbow to elbow, people laid down — a lot of people were drunk. It was pretty hectic.”

In addition to the tight space, he said he didn’t like the dirtiness of the cells.

“We weren’t allowed to wear shoes inside the cell,” he said. “We had to take our shoes off. What I remember most of the night is just sitting in the corner, being quiet and worried about getting picked up.”

On nights the police have many arrests — such as Halloween — the jail tends to juggle prisoners, busing them to other facilities such as the Portage County Jail and Robinson Memorial Hospital, Lewis said. Housing inmates in the county jail instead of Kent, he said, can cost the city as much as $75 per person if their crime falls under city, not state, ordinances.

The ODRC inspects jails across the state annually. Under the inspections, Kent qualifies as a 12-day jail, which means it has the ability to hold inmates for up to 12 days.

Roger Wilson, adult parole authority for the ODRC, said the state found more than the average number of compliance failures for a 12-day jail and ordered it to submit an action plan within 30 days of inspection. He said the state followed up with Kent’s jail Sept. 13 to discuss areas the jail can still improve.

By the Numbers:

2,559: The number of individuals arrested in 2012 by Kent City police

168: The number of arrested inmates who were juveniles in 2012 who needed to be separated from other inmates and put in their own cell

4: The total number of cells in the Kent City jail

7: The maximum number of individuals who can legally stay in the Kent City jail at a time

10 to 12: The average number of inmates on weekends in the Kent City jail

50 to 60: The average number of arrests by the Kent police on heavy party nights

42: The number of compliance standards Kent City jail did not meet in April

Lewis said it only included plans to improve two of the three areas the state generally wants jails to maintain: the jail’s policies and procedures, its documentation and the physical upkeep of the facility. Kent’s plan only included plans for the first two, and Lewis said a new police station is necessary to fulfill the third.

“We can do everything within our power to correct the policies, procedures and documentation, but we need help in creating a new facility to make sure we meet the physical standards that are set by the state,” Lewis said.

Police Chief Michelle Lee said the state will not judge the jail as strictly in terms of physical building problems because of its age and lack of capacity to expand. While Kent’s jail is in need of repairs and changes, Lee said, the city has no plans to update any physical problems with the jail.

Voters, however, can have a say. City Council voted in May to add a 0.25-percent income tax hike to the Nov. 5 ballot to fund a new police department building.

Until then, Lewis said the jail’s staff will continue to work to avoid a shutdown.

“Really, to be honest, the only reason we stay successful and afloat is because of the staff we have here,” Lewis said. “We gotta stay creative and on top of things in order to get by with the facility we have.”

Contact Megan Wilkinson at [email protected].