Sheriff Asks For Heroin Unit At Justice Center

Oct 19, 2015

The Hamilton County Justice Center in downtown Cincinnati.
Credit Tana Weingartner / WVXU

Nearly half of the inmates processed at the Hamilton County Justice Center last year had a heroin addiction and detoxed while behind bars. The Sheriff now wants to create a special ward just for addicts with poor over-all health.

Chief Deputy Mark Schoonover says medical staff would assist inmates as they go through withdrawal. “We can’t have inmates dying on our watch when we believe that we could put a program in place that could possibly prevent that. We have inmates coming into this jail that are not just heroin addicts, but have severe underlying issues such as liver diseases, heart diseases, things of that nature. And they’re at an extreme high risk of dying when they try to detox.”

Jail administrator Major Charmaine McGuffey says the 18 bed unit would be for women only.

“Women come into jail and they’re typically medically problematic. Typically they have a lot more medical issues than men. Many of those women that come into the jail that are addicted have been living on the street. Many of them have not been taking care of their bodies.”

McGuffey says she'd eventually like to create a unit for men as well.

Schoonover says the detox unit will help inmates as they start going through withdrawal, but also have an eye on their release. “There is treatment beyond the jail.  And there are programs beyond the jail.  It’s not just detox.  There’s other things attached to that.”

Schoonover says the unit would help with peer counseling and post-release tracking.

McGuffey says the special unit could help reduce the number of people who are incarcerated in Hamilton County. “When you cycle 9,000 events of heroin detox through your jail, and your population for that year is 20,000 inmates, that’s almost half of the inmates. And of course they’re coming back - they’re recidivists - but that’s what makes the 20,000 number as well, the recidivists,” she says.

The estimated cost for the unit is more than $1.4 million for the first year. Hamilton County administration is reviewing the proposal.