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Sheriff seeks funds to correct jail faults

A laundry list of improvements that would make the Lawrence County Jail meet state compliance range from more space for each prisoner to improved interior lighting to staff training.

At its regular Thursday meeting, Lawrence County Commissioners received a two-page memo from Sheriff Jeff Lawless requesting an unspecified amount of funding to make those upgrades as the sheriff’s office gets ready for an upcoming state inspection, which in the past the jail has failed to pass.

The 2003 version of the Minimum Standards for Jails requires the facility to provide 60 square feet for each prisoner in holding cells; and 70 square feet in a housing cell. Right now the county provides on average 20 square feet of space for an inmate, which can be reduced as the jail population increases.

Other standards that the facility currently doesn’t meet require that the jail has an exercise area with equipment and a visiting area with a minimum viewing area of 2 feet by 2 feet, two-way conversation capability, seating and lighting 30 inches above the floor. A separate medical ward and increased staffing are also required.

“Without major construction there is no way to meet some of those things,” Lawless told the commission. “But lighting could be addressed and new CCTV cameras. We are struggling now.”

Although the jail is allowed to operate because many of the new guidelines weren’t in place when the facility was built, the state could shut the facility down for non-compliance. Lawless, who says the county needs a new facility, is lobbying for what he calls reasonable steps to attempt to bring the jail up to current standards.

The commissioners accepted Lawless’ memo without comment.

County Treasurer Stephen Burcham reported that the county will have a certificate of deposit at 5.6 percent interest coming due on Sept. 11 that will add $140,000 to the general fund. Other interest for the remainder of the year will total $35,000.

Tom Carey, of the Coal Grove Lions Club, requested money to restore a 160-year-old, one-room schoolhouse near Deering that is used by the Eagle Scouts.

One section of the concrete floor has dropped eight inches and needs to be leveled. The Lions Club recently painted the exterior of the school with donations from the community.

“That has such a rich history in our county,” Carey said. “But this is more than we can finance. Anything you can work out to help us.”

Commission President Les Boggs said that the commissioners would discuss the matter during their Tuesday work session.

In other action the commission:

• Signed the grant for the Lawrence County Airport runway lighting project to cost $286,178 of which the county must provide a 10 percent match;

• Received the weekly dog warden’s report where 12 dogs were destroyed, one was sold and none were redeemed. There were 58 dogs at the pound last week;

• Approved landslide design work for County Roads 35 and 30;

• Approved a request to send members of an employee insurance committee to a seminar on health care reform to Columbus.