Franklin County Jail Adding 27 Employees to Assess New Inmates

The Columbus Dispatch

By Rick Rouan

The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office will hire 27 new employees to help screen inmates who are booked at the county jail.

Franklin County Commissioners voted 3-0 on Tuesday to spend $1.4 million this year to hire 20 civilian workers, six sergeants and one lieutenant to implement the county’s new “objective classification system.”

Civilian classification officers will interview people who are being booked at the county jail for their basic information and then ask more questions if they are staying after arraignment, said Chief Deputy Geoff Stobart, who oversees the jail.

Those interviews will help determine which inmates should be housed together and what services they might need. For example, drug-addicted inmates could be housed together so that counselors could be brought to their cells.

Connecting inmates to those services inside the jail will help them better transition to life outside it, Stobart said.

Under the current system, inmates are separated by whether they’re accused of committing a misdemeanor or a felony.

“We want to do everything in our power to try to help those folks transition from jail back into the community to try to prevent the cycling of people through our doors,” he said.

Salary and benefits for 27 new employees will cost the county about $2.2 million a year, said Dave Masterson, the sheriff’s director of administrative services.

The cost of the new positions weren’t included in the 2016 budget, but the county planned for the additional spending in 2016.

Those positions were recommended by Northpointe, a contractor the county hired last year to provide software that civilian workers will use when they interview inmates. The county will pay Northpointe about $200,000 over the next five years for that software, which Stobart said acts as a “decision tree” for classification officers.

“We knew it was coming because we built this staffing study into the contract,” Masterson said. “ So we knew something was going to come of it. We just didn’t know what the numbers would be.”

The county likely will start using the software in mid-May, he said.

Classifying inmates is a precursor to the sheriff’s office moving to a new “direct supervision” jail that will station deputies in inmate pods. Now, deputies are in an area separate from the inmates and only see cells when they make rounds.

People brought to the jail will be screened for mental health problems as well, Commissioner Marilyn Brown said.

A report issued last year by the Council of State Governments Justice Center found that mentally-ill inmates stay longer and return more frequently to the Franklin County jail. When they leave, they often aren’t connected to treatment.

The new system also will give the jail electronic filing. Current records are kept on paper.

“This classification system has been a long time coming,” Brown said. “The reason that we’re doing this now is really important for everybody’s safety and for really making the new jail, when we get it in place, a new kind of place.”