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State, county officials to meet over jail deficiencies

Upcoming meetings requested by state corrections officials could put even more strain on the already tight Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office budget.

Following a recent mandatory jail inspection by the Ohio Bureau of Adult Detention, the Ohio Jail Advisory Board met with Sheriff Jeff Lawless to discuss overcrowded conditions at the jail and funding constraints in the sheriff’s budget.

For years the that was jail built 40 years ago has failed inspections with officials saying it violates minimum standards for housing. Right now the daily jail census ranges from 70 to 72 inmates, almost five times the state standard of 16 inmates. The number of beds there is 52.

This week Lawless received a letter from the board with recommendations it would like to see implemented at the jail.

“We agree that there are many concerns and our recommendations to Sheriff Lawless are to assist him in preventing liability issues,” the board stated.

The board requested a meeting with Lawless, a county commissioner, a county judge and Prosecuting Attorney Brigham Anderson. That meeting will take place on March 15 in Columbus.

“They are concerned with the following categories: lack of funding, overcrowding, lack of staff and the age of the facility,” Lawless wrote to the Lawrence County Commissioners, also this week.

Following the advisory board’s letter, Lawless received a letter from Sara Andrews, managing director of operations for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections. Andrews had also received the jail inspection report and requests a separate meeting with Lawless and county officials, also in March. A date for that meeting has not been set.

“I think it is important to operate the jail according to the standards set forth,” Lawless said. “We have to figure out the way to make it work with the budget provided. It will be tough to gauge (costs) at this point. There are a lot of issues that need to be addressed.”

Among the issues the board advises that should be corrected immediately are appoint a jail administrator; replace all door locks that do not function properly; provide Ohio Minimum Jail Standards training; hire female corrections officers for every shift; update video equipment; and install a video visitation system.

Simply to meet the personnel recommendations, Lawless estimated the cost would be close to $100,000 a year.

Salary for a full-time jail administrator would be $40,000, plus benefits. Currently there are two female corrections officers and to be able to oversee female prisoners on every shift an additional two women would have to be hired. Right now starting salary for a corrections officer is $14.55 an hour, plus benefits.

“As for training for staff I don’t have the money to send them,” Lawless said. “The problem with training is it is a three-week course. Each officer has to go away for three weeks. I would have to pay overtime (for staff covering for officer at training).”

As far as updated video equipment throughout the jail and installing a video visitation system where inmates and visitors could communicate via television monitors, the sheriff does not have a cost estimate.

“They want us also to put in a video arraignment equipment,” Lawless said.

Lawless has asked the corrections officials to see if the county could use a wing of the now defunct Ohio River Valley Juvenile Correctional Facility in Franklin Furnace. The youth prison was shut down in 2010 as part of Gov. John Kasich’s cost-cutting measures.

“They said they would reach out to the governor’s office and see if it was possible to use a portion of that building,” the sheriff said.