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Inspectors: Improvements needed at jail

A recent inspection of the Lawrence County Jail shows the need for improvement in some areas, and the possible need for a new jail altogether.

Gregory J. Dann, a state jail inspector from the Bureau of Adult Detention, inspected the jail Sept. 27 to see if it complied with 16 standards selected from the Minimum Standards for Jails in Ohio, which focuses on reception, housing conditions, health care plans and food service.

Sheriff Tim Sexton and his staff were commended for installing new smoke detectors, however, there were areas in which the jail did fail.

During the inspection, the bureau made the following recommendations:

-- Providing prisoners with sufficient space for reasonable and necessary movement. The bureau's recommended capacity for jail facilities constructed prior to 1979 is 50 square feet of sleeping space and 35 feet of activity space per prisoner. All jail cells were under 50 square feet of living space and most of the day space was insufficient, Dann said. The actual general housing capacity for the jail is 52 (48 men, four women). The bureau's recommended capacity is 26.

-- Providing a designated, secure area for accepting, processing and releasing of prisoners and the secure booking area including interlocking doors that are monitored and controlled from a remote location.

-- Improving lighting in prisoner reading areas, the security perimeter of the jail, and making the lighting in prisoner sleeping areas reducible.

-- Providing adequate table space and seating available to each prisoner during meal time.

Sexton has requested the Lawrence County Commission's assistance with improvements such as getting new locks and cameras. To improve prisoner space, Sexton suggested removing prisoners from the jail and housing them at other facilities.

This would cost county taxpayers to pay $40 per day for each inmate housed at other counties' facilities, Sexton stated in a memo to the commission. The other solution would be constructing a new jail to comply with current state standards.

Jail overcrowding has been a problem throughout the state, Sexton said, and the Sheriff's Department has had to house inmates in four other county jails: Ross, Gallia, Miami and Jackson. When prisoners are transported back and forth to these jails extra deputies are needed, resulting in overtime plus vehicle wear and tear. Sexton said he hopes to possibly get state funding for construction of a new jail.

According to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, nearly $213 million in state bond money was awarded to local jurisdictions for the construction of county and multi-county jails, among other types of facilities.

County Commission President Jason Stephens said the county commission will try to everything in its power to help. At this time, the commission will try to obtain prices for items such as locks and cameras. However, the construction of a new jail will take much more time and research, he said. The possibility to create a multi-county jail with neighboring counties exists as well, he said.

"We'll look at it and see what we can do," he said. "It will be a challenge that will take some study and some tough decisions."