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Corrections departments' release protocol differ

After Franklin County inmate James Smith Junior died after being released from jail, his family is upset because they were not informed of his release.

After spending 48 days in the Jackson Pike jail for cocaine possession, 63-year-old James Smith Junior was released. That was January 18 at 7:30 p.m. Five days later his snow-covered body was found among a pile of lumber at the ALD Concrete and Grading Company, just two miles from the jail.

Franklin County Coroner Brad Lewis said Smith died from heart disease and exposure.

It is not customary for Franklin County jail personnel to phone an inmate's family when they're being released. The jail said it followed the protocol for releasing its inmates, which can take hours because of the large number of releases. More than 100 people were released the day Smith was let out. But Smith's attorney, Mark Hunt, said there should be a way to expedite releases.

"If there was a way to fast track some of these releases, particularly when they're on cases involving someone that has a medical condition or mental condition that would have solved this problem," Hunt said.

Hunt said it was obvious to him that Smith was not well. Smith looked frail and malnourished. And he was diagnosed with schizophrenia earlier in his life, but Hunt did not know.

Hunt said he, the prosecutor and Circuit Court Judge Beverly Pfeiffer agreed, partly because of Smith's poor health, to release Smith that day with time served.

"Judge Pfeiffer did everything she could do. She handed what we call disposition sheet to the courtroom deputy. I took a copy of the exact same thing with me to the clerk's office. If that's all we can do to expedite these kind of releases then, yeah, I think that's a problem. It doesn't seem to me that they come up enough that it would be that big a problem to get that resolved," Hunt said.

Hunt said the jail had all of the paperwork it needed to release Smith by 1:15 that afternoon. Smith was not released for more than six hours.

Franklin County Sheriff Jim Karnes declined to discuss the case an inmate release procedures.

The Ohio Department of Corrections' protocol for releasing inmates from its prisons differs from Franklin County. Spokesperson for the department Andrea Dean said the prison system does work to find a temporary home for inmates who are released and don't have anywhere to go. Unlike Franklin County the state only releases prisoners at certain times of the day. The system keeps track of inmates who are released on parole. But for those who have served their time, like Smith, they are simply released.

"If an offender comes to our prison system and they serve the entire sentence and they are not released under any type of supervision, parole or PRC, we don't have any control over their placement or were they might go. So at that point they are simply released and we don't track where they go," Dean said.

Dean said the state does not make special accommodations for mentally ill released inmates. Once they leave the prison, they are on their own.

In neighboring Fayette County, their protocol is much different. For inmates who are mentally ill a staff person will contact a family member or the proper mental health services. Inmates are also given a chance to phone someone to let them know they will be released. Fayette County Sheriff Vernon Stanforth said comparing its system to Franklin County's is like comparing apples to oranges because their release load is much lighter.