CINCINNATI - One of Hamilton County's four jails has shut its doors because of budget cuts, the first time a jail has closed in the county without a new one in line to take its place.
The closing Friday came as state officials consider ways to safely shrink the state prison population in light of a projected $7 billion state budget deficit over the next two years.
Jails and prisons represent a large portion of both local government and state budgets.
Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis and other county officials said there is simply no money to keep the 822-bed Queensgate jail - which houses low- and medium-security prisoners - open.
The jail closed quietly Friday, as the last dozen or so inmates were led out to black sheriff's office vans and taken to other county jails.
About 70 to 80 inmates had been at the jail Friday morning. There were no signs or announcements. Two people who had come to visit inmates found the door locked and the building empty.
"This is the most frustrating time I've ever seen in my entire career," Leis said. "It's a frustrating, dangerous situation. We're going to get to a point where we're not going to be able to provide the necessary services."
Leis was told to cut his budget $12.4 million, or 16.5 percent, for next year. Leis has been reducing the inmate population by releasing inmates from their sentences early or delaying the start date of their sentences.
Many are immediately released after being booked and told to report for a court date. Most inmates were serving time for misdemeanor crimes such as theft and driving under suspension.
Eighty-seven sheriffs deputies are being laid off effective Wednesday - Christmas Eve. The Queensgate jail wasn't the only building shut down Friday. The county also closed two auto-title offices, cutting county employees in the process.
Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Greg Hartmann has been asked to cut more than 70 jobs. Just as Hamilton County officials are having to address their public safety budget, state officials are contemplating ways to cut the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction's $1.8 billion budget without putting public safety at risk.
In a document recently shared with state lawmakers, agency Director Terry Collins outlined 15 options for reducing the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction's 51,000-prisoner population.
Those options include: Nonviolent drug offenders spending more time in halfway houses instead of in prison; well-behaved inmates getting out early after they earn their GEDs; and others serving the final months of their sentences outside prison while wearing GPS devices.