Cost of moving jail under review

Published 10:07 am Thursday, March 13, 2014

Coming up with the figures of what it would cost the county if it took over part of the former juvenile center in Franklin Furnace was the focus of the first informal meeting of the newly formed action team.

The team was assembled last week to determine the feasibility of using a portion of the now closed Ohio River Valley Correctional Facility as the Lawrence County Jail.

An October 2012 jail inspection showed the facility in noncompliance 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.

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That requirement means the current jail, whose daily census can run from 70 to 100, depending on the season, should only house 16 inmates. Recently Lawless asked for a variance from the state to increase that census number to 58 prisoners. Last month a variance for 27 beds was granted.

Under consideration is a unit of 100 wet cells at the ORVJC. The remainder of the facility could be taken over by the STAR Community Justice Center whose officials are wanting to expand into a 200-plus bed operation.

On Tuesday County Commissioner Bill Pratt, who is the action team chair, met with David Blackburn, project manager for the Ohio Department of Youth Services, County Auditor Jason Stephens, Deputy Auditor Chris Kline, Sheriff Jeff Lawless, Chief Deputy Jeff Hitchcock and Eddie Philabaun of STAR Justice.

“We will do a cost analysis to determine what the true utility cost will be,” Pratt said. “We also were discussing how we are going to share food service and laundry service.”

One potential stumbling block to the taking over the ORVJC was whether Scioto County owned the land the facility sits on. That was resolved on Tuesday.

“The state actually owns it,” Pratt said. “It is not leased from Scioto County. And from the indications, the state is pretty confident they are going to let us have that for $1 a year lease rate. We are hoping to secure a 20-year lease.”

Right now the Lawrence County Jail is grandfathered in, but should it change locations and increase space for inmates, additional corrections officers will be mandatory.

“If it comes to the point we have to hire 20 or 30 corrections officers, it will price us out of it,” Pratt said. “If we get it in the range of six to eight, it is doable.”

The state now wants individual jails to determine their ratios, the sheriff said.

“I have reached out to other jail administrators and try to get some eyes on this,’ Lawless said. “We hope to put together a staffing plan.”

If STAR takes over the majority of the ORVJC, it expects to add 55 to 60 new jobs, plus the potential six to eight new spots from Lawrence County.

“The meeting was very promising,” Lawless said. “I’m feeling a lot better. It seemed like the state is willing to provide us some help with this venture to be successful. Things are looking very helpful.”