Stark County Jail Hopes for Full Capacity

CANTON, Ohio — Efforts to bring the Stark County Jail to full capacity have fell short after the county issued a 0.5 percent sales tax to ensure the correctional facility reach its 502-bed capacity.

Currently at a 400-bed level, the sheriff and county council are hopeful that the jail will finally reach capacity after a significant correctional officer layoff in 2011 caused inmate numbers to dwindle.

“The efforts are being made,” said Stark County Commissioner Tom Bernabei. “But the difficulty lies in hiring.”

According to Bernabei, the issue began when the November 2011 sales tax — which promised taxpayers the jail would reach full capacity as soon as possible — had a break in cash flow.

“By the time it gets to the state capital and back to us, we don’t receive any money until July 2012,” Bernabei said. “So there was a nine month gap there where we didn’t receive any money from the sales tax.”

Because of a decrease in funding to the sheriff’s office, which fell from $16.5 million in 2010 to $13.8 million in 2011, Sheriff George Maier terminated the employment of 41 correctional officers in 2011. This reduction of staff led to the decrease capacity in inmate population, Bernabei said.

“That really reduced his jail bed capacity probably down to the 300 range,” Bernabei said.

In 2012, the city appropriated $15.9 million. Hoping to rehire those who had been previously laid off, Maier was unable to fully staff his department. The 41 officers from the previous year had retired, found other employment or simply didn’t want to go back to the system, Bernabei said.

Maier was forced to begin the hiring process for correctional officers, which Bernabei said is a complex and time consuming process.

“They maintain high standards for hires, which are hard to hire,” Bernabei said. “It’s very, very difficult to hire law enforcement officers because all of the background checks and physical checks and so forth.”

Bernabei said he is fairly confident that the jail will reach full capacity in 2013. With pressure extending from the community to bring the jail to full capacity, Bernabei said there would always be a need for more beds in the criminal justice system but the city is taking careful efforts to maintain a high level of safety.

“It’s not an issue that affects immediate safety or even long-term safety,” Bernabei said. “The people that need to be in jail are in jail.”