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Summit County and Akron Get a MacArthur Grant to Apply Alternatives to Jail Overcrowding

Summit County's jail could be less crowded due to a MacArthur Foundation grant

Akron and Summit County are getting funding to try a new way to reduce jail overcrowding.

The funding comes from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge. It helps local jurisdictions test innovative reforms to reduce over-incarceration.

Summit and Akron were selected for help with the jail facility they share. Akron’s Chief Prosecutor Gertrude Wilms says they will test a Seattle program where police officers can decide whether to charge low- level offenders they encounter on the street.

“We’re just giving the officers some discretion to say, 'Hey, you’ve cooperated with the investigation, we’re going to allow you to report to court. We’re going to allow you to report to the jail to get the booking process started and alleviate some of the jail overcrowding issues that we’ve just not been able to resolve in other aspects that we’ve done.”

Wilms says Summit County will receive an initial $50,000 to study the procedure.

The goal "is to figure out a way we can give officers in the field real-time answers. Is this a person at risk for flight? Do they have warrants and all of that?"

If not, the officers would have "a real opportunity to say, 'No, this person actually has other issues, maybe they don’t need to go to the jail,”

Summit County and Akron are among 20 jurisdictions across the  country selected for this new round of funding through the Safety and Justice Challenge. Altogether, 40 are participating, including Lucas County in Northwest Ohio.