Budget cuts result in prisoner release; suspected in escape

The Youngstown Vindicator is reporting that the Mahoning County Sheriff's office has begun releasing prisoners, some convicted of gun crimes, from jail, claiming that budget cuts are forcing the issue. Some are being told they must return to finish their time when there is room in the jail.

From the story:

    An Akron federal judge who concluded jail conditions violate inmates' civil rights wants no more than 296 inmates at the jail on Fifth Avenue. The jail can hold 564.

    Sheriff Randall A. Wellington is following a 13-step release mechanism to reduce the jail population. Mahoning County common pleas judges established the release criteria late last month.

    Santamas said he and the sheriff will have to figure out if furloughed inmates take priority over newly sentenced criminals. They said juggling the ebb and flow of inmates who must serve a sentence depends on how long the jail operation remains at less than capacity.

    U.S. District Judge David D. Dowd Jr. halted the layoff of 62 deputies this month to allow enough guards for 296 inmates. Commissioners have not said where the money will come from to pay the deputies.

Speculation that the release is being orchestrated to influence a May 3 primary vote on a half-cent sales tax voters have twice rejected last year is growing. The tax helps fund the sheriff's department, among others.

    Inmates released on furlough, meanwhile, sign a sheet that states they understand they must call the jail registrar every month to see if a cell is available. If they are unable to speak by phone with the jail registrar, they must report in person.

    If furloughed inmates fail to call or report in person, a warrant charging them with escape may result.

    Furloughed inmates' crimes include theft, assault, domestic violence, driving under suspension, probation violation, hit and run, contempt of court, carrying a concealed weapon, drug abuse, DUI, receiving stolen property, trespass and nonsupport.

The newspaper then gives examples of persons being released, including a man who was arrested for carrying a concealed firearm (no license, of course), yet is being released two months early.

Knowing the state cannot even keep track of convicted sex offenders on a registry system, can they honestly believe criminals are going to call in every month to ask if they can get a jail cell? Of course not. In fact, the Vindicator quotes Judge Milich as saying one of the inmates released on a court summons already failed to show Thursday and he issued a warrant. The judge said things are going to get worse because crime is moving into the "busy season" — summer.

Meanwhile in Ashtabula County, the Cleveland Plain Dealer is reporting that a jailbreak in that county is raising questions on how budget cuts there have affected security.

Click on the "Read More..." link below for more.

From the Plain Dealer:

    The escape of two federal prisoners from Ashtabula County Jail on Sunday has federal marshals questioning jail security in the wake of hefty county budget cuts.

    The felons overpowered two Ashtabula corrections officers and escaped from the five-story jail after tying up a female officer and assaulting a male officer, said Sheriff William Johnson.

    But Michael Hegyi, 33, and Stephen Jackson, 39, were captured within hours of their escape. Hegyi was caught shortly after the 12:30 p.m. breakout on Ohio 307, near the jail. Jackson was apprehended about five miles away.

    The two face escape charges and possibly charges of attempted murder of a police officer, kidnapping and felonious assault, Johnson said.

    The sheriff gave this account of the escape:

    Corrections officer Barb Burgoon was taking prisoners to the chapel for Sunday services inside a locked area on the fifth floor. The inmates overpowered Burgoon, and one used a strip of a bed sheet he had wrapped around his neck to bind her. She was left in a pantry area.

    The two grabbed her keys and fled to the fourth floor, where they overpowered Officer David Hemminger, who was supervising other cells, beating him up and grabbing his keys. They cut Hemminger with a makeshift knife made from a plastic comb. The inmates then made their way to the basement.

    Burgoon was treated for minor injuries. Hemminger was taken to Ashtabula Medical Center, where he was admitted for head injuries, bruises and cuts. He may be released today, Johnson said. Both officers are on medical leave.

U.S. Marshal Pete Elliott told the Plain Dealer he feared that budget cuts in the county may have played a role in the escape.

"I haven't seen the reports yet, but if it is due to a lack of manpower, I'll have serious concerns, and we'll have to re-evaluate our situation," said Elliott.

Johnson said layoffs earlier this year of 42 deputies and corrections officers have left one patrol car on the road in the entire county - Ohio's largest - each night. Patrol response can take hours. But, the sheriff said jail staffing remains the same, with four corrections officers supervising about 90 inmates.

Again, from the story:

    Hegyi, of Cleveland, was in the Ashtabula County Jail for two days before he escaped, state prison records show. He had been released Friday from Ohio's Lake Erie Correctional Institution in Conneaut after finishing a six-month sentence for vandalism, stalking and felonious assault.

    State authorities took him to the county jail, where he was waiting transfer to a federal prison to begin a 13-year sentence for robbing a Strongsville branch of Charter One Bank of $2,600 on March 8, 2004.

    Jackson, of Cleveland, was awaiting trial in U.S. District Court on charges of robbing banks last summer. He was on parole at the time for a murder he committed when he was 17.

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