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Police chief works on jail challenges
Police chief works on jail challenges
By SUE REID
When Christopher P. Viland took over as Solon chief of police about a year ago, the future of the city's 14-year-old jail was unclear. The full-service jail was experiencing a declining inmate population and declining revenues.
"The daily average inmate population had decreased due to cyclical changes in the criminal justice system, and there was some question as to the viability of maintaining the operation," Mr. Viland recalled.
Based on his years of experience with the Cuyahoga County criminal-justice system, he said, he thought it wisest at that time "to stay the course."
"There is a definite cycle to inmate populations," Mr. Viland explained. "The system always makes an adjustment to get people out of jail, and populations decrease." But then there will be more wrongdoing, he said, and that population increases again.
"I knew that we were in a low period," Mr. Viland said, but there would be a point in the future where housing prisoners would become a difficult issue for some. "I thought it wise to maintain the viability of those operations," he said.
To that end, Mr. Viland negotiated with other municipalities to increase the users of the Solon Jail. In addition to the villages of Woodmere and Bentleyville and the city of Shaker Heights, which already used the jail, he secured contracts with the villages of Orange and Chagrin Falls. He continues to negotiate with other area communities, he said.
Mr. Viland said he explained to other police chiefs that the Solon Jail is one of the only state-certified municipal jails.
"We maintain a high level of service and hopefully produced an efficient option," he said.
Mr. Viland also worked to expand some of the jail's services to get Cuyahoga County's prisoners from other municipal jails.
"We were able to do that without contract, because the actual revenue is from the county system," he said. "We expanded our revenue stream through contract and service sharing."
The most recent example of that is an agreement with Rocky River. If that western suburb has county inmates that it's unable to house them, he said, they will be transferred to Solon.
Over this past year, Mr. Viland said, he has continued to make sure he was doing everything economically and as efficiently as possible with relation to the jail, while at the same time being patient as changes occurred.
One of the biggest changes at the county level was operational decisions that it will not be housing misdemeanor prisoners with sentences of less than 30 days, he said. While the county remains responsible for those prisoners, Mr. Viland explained, the housing will now occur at municipal jails. As a result, there is "going to be an increase in population for the municipal jails as those sentenced people have to have a place to stay," he said. "That's the biggest and most recent change."
Solon's average daily inmate population has increased accordingly. "We are running in the low teens and increasing to the mid- to high teens," he said. "Back in 2010, at one point when the viability of the jail was very seriously being discussed, our average population dropped below four." Mr. Viland said he's comfortable running the jail with an average population of high teens to possibly 20 inmates.
The jail's maximum capacity is 26, and it can house prisoners up to a year an a half.
Its population includes prisoners who are sentenced for weekends. Other times, the majority are individuals who have been arrested in Solon and are awaiting bond or transfer.
If the daily population at the jail stabilizes at a different level, there may be a need to reassess manpower and staffing, Mr. Viland said. He would provide that information to Solon City Council's safety and public properties committee "to see if I can garner support for change, if I think it is needed," he said.
"Everybody is working up to their maximum," Mr. Viland said. "We'll see if we need a change over time."
Currently, the jail is staffed with a full-time administrator, seven full-time correction officers and seven part-time correction officers. The two-story facility has a jail doctor on staff who serves on a contractual basis.
Mr. Viland said he will budget this year to run the jail at full capacity. It represents about 15 percent of his total annual budget of between $7.7 million to $7.9 million, or roughly $1 million.
Total revenues for the jail for 2011 were $200,174, and expenditures were $733,854, according to Fred Wendel, the city's assistant finance director. In 2010, revenues were nearly half that at $103,251, with expenditures at $827,701.
Regarding continued challenges associated with the jail, Mr. Viland said, "For us, it is going to be showing enough revenue to offset expenses to the point that it continues to make it worth it.
"I think that, in the long run, the intangibles of having an on-street arrest where the officers can bring someone to the jail and get back on street without a significant lapse of time and not having to send officers out of city to do jail transport duties, at this point, is worth the expense," he said.
"We are always trying to balance those needs, though, and make continuous determination of whether those expenses are worth it."
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