Archived Story

State pushes for upgrades, administrator at aging facility

Published 12:00am Sunday, March 17, 2013

The mandatory meeting between Lawrence County officials and representatives from the Ohio Jail Advisory Board has started efforts to make some changes at the county jail. However, the question of whether a new facility is in sight is still unanswered.

“They were very hospitable and there wasn’t anything contentious about the meeting,” Lawrence County Commission President Bill Pratt said.

Representing Lawrence County at the Friday meeting in Columbus were Pratt, County Commissioner Freddie Hayes, Sheriff Jeff Lawless, Common Pleas Judge Charles Cooper, Chief Deputy Jeff Hitchcock. Prosecutor Brigham Anderson, State Rep. Ryan Smith and Lynn Stewart and Carl Bowen from Adult Probation Department.

The meeting came after the county jail again failed a recent state inspection with state corrections officials giving the county a list of recommendations they wanted to see address.

Some of them including improving cell locks had already been taken care of before the meeting.

“One of their major concerns was that we appoint a jail administrator,” Pratt said. “It doesn’t have to be a salaried position. It could be someone already employed, just taking that title.”

Also on the short list for county upgrades could be improving lighting in the facility.

“That is something as a commission I think we need to take the lead on and ask (the sheriff) to get estimates on that,” Pratt said.

That upgrade could cost between $20,000 and $30,000, but could end up with long-term savings on electricity, the commissioner said.

“The main issue they kept hitting on was the occupancy rate at the jail and they want to see that down to 58 prisoners,” Pratt said.

Typically the county jail houses on average 70 prisoners, but if the revised state regulations on minimum standards for space for prisoners was followed, the Lawrence County Jail should only house 16 inmates.

The chairman of the jail advisory committee said the county should ask for a variance on the space requirement from the state. But state officials also recommended the prosecutor and judges work together to reduce the number of inmates housed at the jail.

“Some of us took offense at that,” Pratt said. “We thought our judges already do a good job and we weren’t housing people who shouldn’t be there. That wasn’t something we could address from our standpoint. It is a facility problem. Our facility isn’t large enough to handle (the numbers).”

County officials continued their push for the state to re-open the Ohio River Valley Juvenile Corrections Facility in Franklin Furnace to turn it into a regional jail.

“We had the perfect solution and were very aggressive about them pursing the juvenile facility not only for Lawrence County but other counties with overcrowding.

On Thursday the newly formed county Jail Resolution Committee will hear a report about the state meeting. State corrections officials also want to meet again with the county in six months.

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