Archived Story

State, county officials to meet over jail deficiencies

Published 9:47am Friday, February 15, 2013

Upcoming meetings requested by state corrections officials could put even more strain on the already tight Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office budget.

Following a recent mandatory jail inspection by the Ohio Bureau of Adult Detention, the Ohio Jail Advisory Board met with Sheriff Jeff Lawless to discuss overcrowded conditions at the jail and funding constraints in the sheriff’s budget.

For years the that was jail built 40 years ago has failed inspections with officials saying it violates minimum standards for housing. Right now the daily jail census ranges from 70 to 72 inmates, almost five times the state standard of 16 inmates. The number of beds there is 52.

This week Lawless received a letter from the board with recommendations it would like to see implemented at the jail.

“We agree that there are many concerns and our recommendations to Sheriff Lawless are to assist him in preventing liability issues,” the board stated.

The board requested a meeting with Lawless, a county commissioner, a county judge and Prosecuting Attorney Brigham Anderson. That meeting will take place on March 15 in Columbus.

“They are concerned with the following categories: lack of funding, overcrowding, lack of staff and the age of the facility,” Lawless wrote to the Lawrence County Commissioners, also this week.

Following the advisory board’s letter, Lawless received a letter from Sara Andrews, managing director of operations for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections. Andrews had also received the jail inspection report and requests a separate meeting with Lawless and county officials, also in March. A date for that meeting has not been set.

“I think it is important to operate the jail according to the standards set forth,” Lawless said. “We have to figure out the way to make it work with the budget provided. It will be tough to gauge (costs) at this point. There are a lot of issues that need to be addressed.”

Among the issues the board advises that should be corrected immediately are appoint a jail administrator; replace all door locks that do not function properly; provide Ohio Minimum Jail Standards training; hire female corrections officers for every shift; update video equipment; and install a video visitation system.

Simply to meet the personnel recommendations, Lawless estimated the cost would be close to $100,000 a year.

Salary for a full-time jail administrator would be $40,000, plus benefits. Currently there are two female corrections officers and to be able to oversee female prisoners on every shift an additional two women would have to be hired. Right now starting salary for a corrections officer is $14.55 an hour, plus benefits.

“As for training for staff I don’t have the money to send them,” Lawless said. “The problem with training is it is a three-week course. Each officer has to go away for three weeks. I would have to pay overtime (for staff covering for officer at training).”

As far as updated video equipment throughout the jail and installing a video visitation system where inmates and visitors could communicate via television monitors, the sheriff does not have a cost estimate.

“They want us also to put in a video arraignment equipment,” Lawless said.

Lawless has asked the corrections officials to see if the county could use a wing of the now defunct Ohio River Valley Juvenile Correctional Facility in Franklin Furnace. The youth prison was shut down in 2010 as part of Gov. John Kasich’s cost-cutting measures.

“They said they would reach out to the governor’s office and see if it was possible to use a portion of that building,” the sheriff said.

  • bigkahuna

    On second thought bring back the chain gang.

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  • bigkahuna

    Get some of that obama money and build a big jail in Ironton.

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  • CollegeStudent

    I don’t see why the state would not go to a regional jail in the center of like 4 County and just put small post in each county. It to me would be cheaper to run because you would have the money all the counties to run the jail, say if you have 4 counties each would have to pay 25% of the total cost to run it. Also you will have more jailer so that would cut in the to the overtime pay.

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    • swimmingupstream

      While a regional jail, on the surface, seems like an efficient deal, it may not be. The farther away the jail is the farther deputies and other local police agencies have to travel to incarcerate prisoners. It could take an officer the better part of a shift just to drive to, deposit, and return home, which could lead to overtime if they don’t get back on time or at the very least would leave their area uncovered for lengthy periods of time.

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      • bleedingheart

        Maybe not, swimmer. Have the Ironton jail for a holding facility. (local officers would still take them originally to Ironton). Take one trip with the van to transport prisoners to the regional jail. Use video conferencing to have arraignments.

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  • Ozzy

    You will never see the Juvenile Facility in Franklin Furnace used by local people. The Governor has made that clear.
    I think Sheriff Lawless is thinking outside the box, he is trying to come up with solutions to the problems he is facing.
    Lawrence County does need its own jail but how are we tax payers going to afford it? Is anyone willing to pay more taxes? As far as where it is built, who cares if the City of Ironton loses these taxes, The County has plenty of property around that it could be built on such as the “Point” property in South Point and the county would get this tax revenue. The Criminal Justice System in this County eats up a huge amount of money from law enforcement, jail, juvenile facility, courts, prosecutor, probation, etc… so we the tax payers have to decide how safe do we want to be. Is law enforcement and a jail to keep these criminals lock up away from our homes important to us? If so we are going to have to pay more taxes to get us back to code.

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  • rambo

    I strongly agree with Swampcreature as to asking the people of Lawrence to invest in a jail in another county. I have had faith in the duputies from this county until they started to want I would classify as haressment from a neighbor that filed charges that were thrown out and all court charges dismissed. It seems odd that these duputies would waste their time on something as trival as this when they could have been doing their actual jobs of enforcing the law. This county at times amazes me with the lack of enforcement of actual crime but are willing to respond to a bogus complaint from someone that has had mental health issues for a long time.

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  • swampcreature

    I strongly object the idea to asking Lawrence County residents to invest in a jail located in another county. Why should the taxpayers of Lawrence County operate and maintain a facility in Scioto County that they don’t even own? Can you imagine telling people asking direction to the Lawrence County jail that they will need to get back on the highway and drive to Scioto County? Did anyone stop and think that Lawrence County jail employees won’t be subject to city income taxes which will deprive Ironton of needed funds? Did anyone reason that a few jail employees might relocate to Scioto County to be closer to work which would put more Lawrence County homes up for sale? Did anyone think of the cost and burden to transport inmates to court each day from such a distance? What about the wear and tear on Lawrence County cruisers if the booking of prisoners in done in another county? Will Lawrence County residents be asked to run an office in Lawrence County and a jail in Scioto County and maintain both facilities?

    The solution to the county’s jail problems is to build a modern facility where it should be- in Lawrence County! Ironton has a vast amount of empty space that could easily accommodate a new prison. There is no reason to spend one dime of Lawrence County money investing in a facility located in another county.

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