Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Jail Situation: Raw Numbers

Commissioner David Pepper and Councilmember Leslie Ghiz are reportedly collaborating on a plan through which Cincinnati would pay to incarcerate individuals sentenced for misdemeanor offenses in Campbell County, Kentucky. I supported the public safety tax when it appeared on the ballot. But I keep hearing from people (largely on the margins) that Hamilton County's correctional system should be large enough as is. So I set out to find out how we compare to other cities.

Here's what the Internets has taught me:

Cincinnati has a population of about 332,458. Hamilton County's population is about 842,369. Its jail capacity (now that Queensgate is closed) is 1,448. That's about one bed per 581 county residents. (If Queensgate were open, total capacity would be 2,270 for a ratio of 1:371.)

Columbus has a population of about 747,755. Franklin County's population is about 1,118,107. Its jail capacity is 2,331, for a ratio of 1:479.

Cleveland has a population of 444, 313, with Cuyahoga County at 1,295,958. County jail capacity is 1,749. But Cuyahoga County is unique; in 2004, local municipalities operated jails with an additional (cumulative) 700 beds. That leaves a combined ratio of one bed per 529 residents.

Pittsburgh has a population of 312,819; a total of 1,219,210 live in Allegheny County. It has 2,700 jail beds, for a ratio of 1:451.

So what do we know? Of the three most populated counties in Ohio, Hamilton County has the highest number of residents per jail bed. I threw in Pittsburgh, because it is of similar size and nearby. It, too, has a lower ratio of population to jail beds than Cincinnati.

This is based on my quick tour of Google. I leave open the possibility that I have overlooked something critical to this analysis. But if it is correct, then it is maybe not so surprising that the jail is severely overcrowded.

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