RAVENNA -- The Portage County Jail is overcrowded, with average inmate population numbers --- particularly women -- steady and increasing.

That's according to records provided by the Portage County Sheriff's Department.

The information comes after the Portage County commissioners decided to call a meeting to discuss alternatives to a proposed $13 million expansion of the facility, citing decreasing jail population numbers.

During the board's meeting last week, the commissioners decided to hold off on approving a quote for service of a construction manager for the jail expansion, essentially deferring action on the project until further discussion with county judges and the sheriff.

Approved last year was a roughly $13 million pod built specifically to addressing the rising female population, along with replacement of aging locks and door systems in the jail, which is 25 years old. The money would come out of the county general fund via the one-quarter percent sales and use tax imposed in 2015 by the commissioners without a vote of the electorate.

Doak said the female pod holds a maximum of 34 inmates. At times, the pod has held more than 75 women, a roughly 220 percent overpopulation.

"The female population is up. Overall, the population is down this time of year. Sure, that's typical. But the female population hasn't been down since 2013. That's the whole reason we need the new pod," said Doak, who added that he's been frustrated for several years by a lack of action taken by the commissioners.

The commissioners receive updated jail population numbers daily and monthly from the sheriff. On average from 2013 to 2016, the jail's average total population has increased by 20 to 30.

The new pod would hold 133 female inmates, boosting the total jail capacity to 351. The current 34 female spaces would be converted to use by male inmates. Open bed space in the male pod cannot be used for female inmates, per state regulations.

At their meeting last week, commissioners said there might be alternative options to consider, including smaller pod designs. However, the only option in the eyes of Doak is to build the new pod.

"This issue of overcrowding is not new. We've been dealing with increasing numbers since 2011, when we started to see spikes in the females," he said. "The judges are aware of the issue and they do their best to keep the females out of the jail."

Doak and others have cited the upsure in drug-related crime, spurred by opioid usage, as a reason for the increasing jail population.

Major Dale Kelly, who manages the facility and tracks the population numbers, said there is a growing number of inmates with high recidivism rates.

"What do you with the people who get out and come back? How do you help them if they don't want to stay out?" he said.

Both Doak and Kelly said rehabilitation programs, which are the target of possible funding under the sales and use tax subcommittee, aren't working well enough to keep people out of jail, either. Doak is a member of the subcommittee.

The new pod would require an additional 15 full-time corrections officers, Kelly said. That has been a rising concern voiced by Commissioner Maureen Frederick at previous meetings. She has said that the county cannot afford to hire additional guards.

"We have taken steps to deal as best we can with this already. We've been dealing with overcrowding for years," Doak said. "I think it's going to get worse before it gets better."

The commissioners were to meet Feb. 21 to discuss alternatives to a jail expansion.

Email: mmerchant@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4156