Female inmates, mental health issues challenge jail resources

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By David Trinko - dtrinko@limanews.com

, Female inmates, mental health issues challenge jail resources,  HEALING MENTAL HEALTH TOGETHER
The Auglaize County Law Enforcement Center may require some modifications to deal with increases in the number of female and mentally ill inmates, Auglaize County officials said.

WAPAKONETA — An increase in women jailed in Auglaize County has it considering its options on the 23-year-old Auglaize County Law Enforcement Center.

“When the facility was built in ‘98, we could only house 11 females,” said Auglaize County Sheriff Mike Vorhees, who started his first term in January. “On the average, since I’ve taken office, the average has been 15 or more. (Thursday) morning we had 17 females.”

That has county officials considering the best course of action “to deal with the demographic needs of today vs. just a couple of decades ago,” Auglaize County Doug Spencer said at Thursday’s “Auglaize County State of the City, County and Schools,” sponsored by the Wapakoneta Area Chamber of Commerce.

That could mean expansion or reconfiguring the jail that’s already at the facility at 1051 Dearbaugh Ave., Wapakoneta, near the fairgrounds and clearly visible from U.S. 33. There are state grants available to help defray costs.

“One of the things that we’re diligently working with him is a feasibility study with the law enforcement center, which was constructed and moved into in 1998,” Spencer said.

Vorhees labeled the female block his facility’s “biggest problem.”

“The problem with the female block is you cannot house nonviolent and violent offenders in the same block,” he said. “That’s definitely a shortcoming we’re having.”

Other area jails aren’t seeing as much of a problem with female inmates recently.

Allen County Sheriff’s Office Major Andre McConnahea, the public information officer, noted all inmate numbers have been down due to COVID-19 restrictions, with judges and prosecutors working to avoid large crowds in the jail.

The county did see crowding issues with women beforehand, though. The Allen County Justice Center opened in 1990 along Lima’s Main Street with room for 210 inmates at a time.

“Under normal conditions a few years ago, we did have occasional crowding issues and were over the recommended capacity a number of times,” McConnahea said via email. “This was primarily due to the surge in female inmates, which we can assume was closely tied to the opiate epidemic, however it was not to the extent of being unmanageable.”

Putnam County Sheriff Brian Siefker said his facility has room for 12 females and only had six Thursday.

Vorhees also noted there are issues supervising inmates with mental health issues, particularly “on suicide watch, and really when it was built, it wasn’t built quite for that.”

Mental health concerns are where Siefker really notices issues in his 76-bed jail, which opened in 2003.

“Our office struggles to get some of these inmates the professional help that they need,” Siefker said via email. “Our office tries to get some of these inmates into (Northwest Ohio Psychiatric Hospital) in Toledo, but beds are limited and we are put on a waiting list. This is a day-to-day struggle in which every jail seems to deal with every day.”

Vorhees hopes whatever decisions Auglaize County makes that they’re forward-thinking.

“The biggest thing I look at is we need to make sure this lasts for the future,” he said. “This lasted us for 23 years. We’re 23 years into this, and what are we going to see in the future?”

Reach David Trinko at 567-242-0467 or on Twitter @Lima_Trinko.

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