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State to meet with committee over jail

A specially called meeting of the county’s jail committee could result in a solution to the aging and out-of-compliance facility when state corrections officials come to Lawrence County in two weeks.

At least one commissioner is hoping the state will make the county an offer it can’t refuse.

“In my opinion they are going to make us some kind of offer (for use of part of former juvenile facility in Franklin Furnace),” Commissioner Bill Pratt said. “It is the best solution for the taxpayers of Lawrence County.”

In May 2013 officials from Lawrence, Jackson and Scioto counties toured the now closed Ohio River Valley Corrections Facility in Scioto County to see if it could be used as a regional jail.

“We really liked the part with the 100 individual wet cells,” Pratt said. “That was mentioned that would suit our needs entirely. I don’t know if they want to give it to Lawrence County or some kind of lease agreement.”

The state officials are scheduled to meet with the jail committee, made up of the county commissioners, county judges, law enforcement officials and concerned citizens, at noon, March 5, at the commission chambers.

The meeting was prompted by a conversation Commission President Les Boggs had with Gov. John Kasich, where Boggs was asked for a project the state might be able to offer help with.

“I thought long and hard and one of the things I knew we needed was a new jail,” Boggs said. “We realize something has to be done. The inspections have certified it for less than 20 people.”

An Oct. 16, 2012, jail inspection showed the facility in non-compliance with 39 of the minimum standards for jails, including not providing the mandatory square footage that the state requires for each prisoner, which is 50 square feet of sleeping space and 35 square feet of day space.

That requirement means the current jail, whose daily census can run from 70 to 100 depending on the season, should only house 16 inmates. About a year ago, Sheriff Jeff Lawless requested of the department of rehabilitation and correction a variance to house 58 prisoners.

In a letter dated Feb. 4, 2014, Sara Andrews, DRC, managing director, said a variance for 27 beds, in addition to the jail’s six holding cells, would be granted.

“Our facility is far from being what it should be,” Boggs said. “We are challenged with the facts that we have to do something. We are going to discuss options with the department of corrections. This commission is doing everything we can to come up with a viable alternative.”

The ideal solution, according to Boggs, would be to have a new building to house the jail.

“I think every person on the jail committee realizes we need a new jail whether we can get that option I don’t know. That would be the best and optimal. It may not be what the state offers.”