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Former youth facility could be possible option for jail

As Lawrence County officials prepare for a meeting with the state over conditions at the county jail, determining if the closed youth corrections facility in Franklin Furnace could be a regional jail will be a topic of discussion.

“That is the most efficient option,” Commission President Bill Pratt said. “We will be putting in a plug for the juvenile facility. I’d rather it be in Lawrence County. It is unfortunate that the facility is not in Lawrence County.”

In 2011 the 244-bed Ohio River Valley Juvenile Correctional Facility in Franklin Furnace was shut down as part of Gov. John Kasich’s cost-cutting measures. In June of that year the state tried to sell it receiving only two bids for the $11.5 million facility, the higher less than three percent of its appraised value. That bid of $284,000 came from MGNR Properties of North Ridgeville. The other was $118,000 from National Scrap Corp. of South Bloomfield.

Since then, the facility has remained empty.

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

For years the jail built 40 years ago has failed inspections with officials saying it violates minimum standards for housing. Right now the typical daily jail census ranges from 70 to 72 inmates, almost five times the state standard as far as space per prisoner. If that standard were followed, the present jail could only accommodate 16 inmates. The number of beds there is 52.

Last month Lawless received a letter from the advisory board with recommendations it would like to see implemented at the jail, including appointing a jail administrator; replacing door locks that do not function properly; hire a female corrections officer for every shift, updating video equipment and installing a video visitation system.

At that time 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.

Right now Pratt, Lawless, Commissioner Freddie Hayes, Anderson and Common Pleas Judges Scott Bowling and Charles Cooper are expected to attend.

“I would like to go up there and talk with them and see what we need to do to be in code with them and hopefully come up with a way to build a new jail,” Hayes said. “I am in support of (taking over the youth facility), if we can do that. That would really be the best way. If not, I am for whatever it takes to get one.”

Pratt said he was recently contacted by an official from the Ohio Department of Youth Services who discussed the possibility of turning the 244-bed facility into a jail that could possibly serve the area.

“It’s looking a lot better than it was,” said Pratt who would like to see the facility become a regional jail operated by the state. He cited the Western Regional Jail and Corrections Facility Authority that operates a number of jails in the state.

Coming up with a new jail is only part of the challenge for the county as recent changes in staffing requirements translate to one corrections officer for every 10 inmates. Right now there are 13 corrections officers on staff at the county jail with two or three working per shift.

With his current budget, Lawless has said he is struggling to meet the needs of his office. Earlier this year said there would be layoffs in his present staff. However, that was averted when the commission appropriated additional revenue.

Simply meeting the staffing recommendations of the latest jail inspection could add $100,000 to his office salaries.

If the money were there to operate the youth facility, Lawless could see that as a possibility.

“It would certainly be helpful to have an up-to-date facility to house prisoners,” he said. “With that comes a big expense with staffing and funding it properly. If the commission can support that, I am definitely for it.”

His goal for the state meeting is “to try to find alternate means to bring this jail into compliance,” he said.