Options for facility offered at inaugural meetingPublished 9:56am Friday, March 29, 2013
Building a freestanding smaller jail for women or erecting modular units for women inmates and those charged with misdemeanor convictions were among the ideas on the table at the first meeting of the Lawrence County Jail Resolution Committee.
The committee was formed earlier this month just before county officials met with state correctional officials about the condition of the county jail.
Built in 1974, the jail has repeatedly failed state inspections, including one in January when the state offered 15 recommendations to bring the facility up to compliance.
The committee, which met on Thursday, is made up of the county commissioners, Sheriff Jeff Lawless, County Treasurer Stephen Burcham, Chief Deputy Jeff Hitchcock, county liability attorney Randall Lambert and members of the public including Tim Collins, Bob Vinson, architect Shawn Walker and Ron Thomas.
“The jail was outdated the day it went into existence,” Lawless told the committee. “Over the years the laws and rules have changed and we don’t meet very many to be in compliance.”
Among those is a state minimum spacing requirement that states each inmate must have between 60 to 70 square feet of personal space. The county jail provides only 15 square feet per prisoner.
“We are way out of compliance in that,” Lawless said.
By current standards the county jail should only house 16 prisoners. On Thursday there were 73 inmates there and that census can go up to 100 prisoners a day. The state is allowing the county to ask for a variance to have a maximum capacity of 58 prisoners, the number of beds at the facility.
A second failure of the jail is the lack of sufficient natural and artificial lighting.
“We have a skylight that has been busted out for 15 years,” the sheriff said. “We cover it with plastic to give some natural light. We are definitely in need of a new facility, how we get it though without funding. We were next to get (state) funding after Scioto County. That funding went away 13 years ago.
“(The jail) has been neglected through no one’s fault. You have to prioritize your money. But here we are trying to play catch up.”
Pratt said upgrading the lighting could be addressed as one of the first priorities.
“The lighting, that is something that could be done relatively easy,” the commissioner said. “That could cost between $20,000 and $40,000. That is something the county should do.”
Pratt would like to see the state take over the former Ohio River Valley Juvenile Corrections Facility that was closed about three years ago as a cost-saving measure. If the state were to re-open it, Pratt wants the state to lease to the county a wing of 100 beds at a cost less than it pays to house prisoners out of the county. Right now the cheapest rate is at Scioto County for $48 a day per inmate. That rate can go up as high as $110 a day depending on the county.
Pratt also suggested constructing a small facility to house women prisoners exclusively to reduce some of the overcrowding.
Lambert, who is the attorney for the county on liability cases, said with the current conditions the county could someday face a civil rights lawsuit. He suggested erecting modular pods to add the needed space.
“You could have a pod for females and for misdemeanors,” Lambert said. “It would only increase your staff by 30 to 40 percent. The jail would still be grandfathered in, but economical.”
If the county were to build a new jail or even substantially build onto the current structure, it would then be required to increase correctional staff to the ratio of 1 officer for every 10 to 12 prisoners. That would add substantial cost to the already strained sheriff’s budget.
The committee will meet again next Tuesday and community members are invited to join to provide their input on the issue.
“We can’t continue to let our jail fall into pieces while we are waiting for a miracle solution,” Pratt said.