County judicial system strained

The drug problem in Brown County is pushing the local criminal justice system to the limit.

That was the message that Brown County Common Pleas Court Judge Scott Gusweiler had for the Brown County Criminal Justice Task Force on June 21.

“If we don’t look at this and do something, we aren’t going to change from being the highest unintentional drug overdose death rate in the state.  You’ve got to give me tools.  You’ve got to give me bullets in my gun,” Gusweiler said.

He told the group that the jail is not the only problem in the county.

“There is a lot of other infrastructure that is so antiquated that we are bursting at the seams.”

He referred to his overcrowded probation staff who is asked to deal with an increasing number of defendants in cramped quarters.

“If we add any more people, which we will have to eventually, we will have to move,” Gusweiler said.

He also mentioned the fact that three courts in town are located in three different places, adding to transportation and security concerns.

“This committee’s responsibility is to look to the future and to try to get a gameplan for dealing with all of the courts,” Gusweiler said.

He also referred to the impact that the drug issue is having on his court and the local judicial system.

“The assets that I have at the hands of myself and my probation staff are almost non-existent in this county to deal with the drugs.  I have no inpatient (option) and I only have six beds for sober living. We also have a problem with a lack of transitional living,” Gusweiler said.

“The legislature and the legislators are passing laws to ensure that this problem is a local problem and handled locally.  The prisons are not going to be a welcome spot to handle this problem, so the burden is falling directly on us to find out what assets we can try to create to meet this issue head-on.”

He said that more counseling services are needed for those convicted of drug offenses and that his probation officers were the main source of counseling for many.

Gusweiler also said it’s a difficult process when someone on probation for a drug offense asks for help.

“My chief probation officer told me that he had two people who told him that they needed inpatient treatment.  We couldn’t find them anything except out of county and it took a month and a half.  And with heroin, you are going to be dead within two days if you get the wrong batch,” Gusweiler said.

“It’s unacceptable to me, it’s frustrating to me, it’s frustrating to my probation staff.”

He then told task force members that they had a difficult task ahead.

“Everybody has less and we are being asked to do a bunch more.  So how is the best way moving forward to efficiently and cost-effectively address all of that is what I challenge you to look at.”

In other business, the task force was presented with a $3.6 million expansion plan option for the Brown County Jail to increase it to a capacity of 148.

Two 40 person minimum security dormitories and expanded administrative space were part of the plan.

Details of the expansion plan and an upcoming study of the Brown County criminal justice system by federal experts are in the June 23 edition of The News Democrat which is on sale now.