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County leaders discussing new jail site, future costs

While county leaders move toward selecting a new Lawrence County Jail site, the future staffing cost of an expanded facility has prompted concern.

Monday, August 06, 2001

While county leaders move toward selecting a new Lawrence County Jail site, the future staffing cost of an expanded facility has prompted concern.

"We’re still evaluating properties," said Doug Cade, director of special projects for the CAO, who is helping the county with the project.

Choosing a site, or sites, could come soon, while capital construction dollars from the state would not be known until early 2003, Cade said.

Sheriff Tim Sexton, whose office oversees the jail, echoes sheriffs in previous years – a new jail is needed to relieve overcrowding.

"The concern, though, is not so much construction but one of staffing," Sexton said.

Ohio has construction dollars available but the standards when the current jail was built in 1974 have changed, so there will have to be increased staff as well as other increased expenses to consider, he said.

While the state will fund most of a new jail’s construction, the operating costs of jails around the state come from county coffers.

"Certainly we would like to have a new jail," Sexton said. "Obviously, we cannot afford to build it by ourself. But the biggest obstacle in my opinion is operations funding."

Commissioners have hinted that new industrial development – such as from the Duke and Calpine power plants, or future industrial park tenants – will boost tax revenue, and therefore jail expenditures.

Still, future funding will remain a hurdle, even during a new jail’s design phase, Sexton said.

The county must decide the type of jail and the number of beds, then state standards would dictate the staffing level, he said.

In general, a bigger jail costs more to operate.

"Obviously, it won’t be a 52-bed facility because that’s where we are now, and it’s overcrowded as it is," the sheriff said.

Discussion about the need for a new jail began years ago, as inmates began outnumbering those beds.

In October 1999, commissioners heard a report from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction that the county would have to keep its outdated lockup at least another four to seven years. And, designing and planning a new jail would take two of those years, officials said.

At that time, and in more recent years, the commissioners discussed architects, grant programs, preliminary plans and even visited a few jails around the state – with ideas favoring local lockups instead of a regional concept. At least one architect has submitted a proposal, which was unsolicited by the county.

TUESDAY: Court and jail leaders examine home confinement, which could help alleviate some overcrowding until a new jail opens.