Jail solutions will require expert help

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 17, 2013

Lawrence County officials should look outside our region for expert consultants who can help develop a plan to address overcrowding and substandard conditions at the county jail.

And they should do it now before it is too late.

For years the county has gotten by on Band-Aids and minor fixes, but it is becoming apparent that the state isn’t going to allow that for much longer. Following a recent inspection, officials with the Ohio Jail Advisory Board have requested a meeting with the sheriff and other county officials.

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The board also made far-reaching recommendations of changes that it feels should be made. At some point these suggestions could become ultimatums.

Although the total cost of these haven’t been determined, it is likely several hundred thousand dollars would be added to an already tight budget.

Officials with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections have also requested a separate meeting.

Huge decisions loom on the horizon when it comes to housing criminals, decisions that will likely impact taxpayers for decades to come.

Arming our leaders with complete information and comprehensive data will be crucial to plotting the best course. It is unrealistic to think that local officials can do this on their own.

The county should look to hire a consulting firm with experience in the corrections field.

That group should analyze a host of factors including what it would cost to bring the current jail up to standards dictated by the state; what it would cost to build and operate a new facility; what it would cost to simply close the jail and send inmates elsewhere; and what it would cost to operate an existing facility like the youth detention center in Scioto County.

A comprehensive analysis like this won’t be cheap but taking the wrong path could unnecessarily cost the county millions more in the long run.

Making the right decision for Lawrence County’s future will hinge on getting the right information first.