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Decision on jail looming

In about two and a half weeks, the state wants to know if Lawrence County will move its jail operation to Franklin Furnace.

The county wants to know if the state is willing to do more than just offer up a building. But without funding from somewhere besides county funds, the move doesn’t appear likely.

Two weeks ago Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless presented to the jail advisory committee that is reviewing the possible move his staffing figures if a section of the former Ohio River Valley Juvenile Correctional Facility was turned into the county jail.

The sheriff had told the committee 36 staff would be required.

“Basically to do all the jobs required and provide enough staff for safety, transports and indoor and outdoor recreation,” the sheriff said. “I put out the numbers. It was not well-received by the committee.”

Last week state corrections officials offered their numbers.

“They were inflated above the numbers I have,” Lawless said. “It was six more above that.”

About two years ago the ORVJC closed and state corrections officials two months ago proposed Lawrence County take over a 100-bed unit at the center for its jail.

For several years overcrowding has plagued the jail as its daily census continued to rise along with new state standards that required more square footage of area for inmates. That translated to the current jail only able to house 16 prisoners, if those standards were followed. Recently, the state allowed a variance to increase that number to 27.

However with between 70 to 100 prisoners daily at the jail, the facility still remains in non-compliance.

That’s why the offer of the Franklin Furnace center appeared a possible solution.

But when the sheriff’s staffing figures came in, it meant an increase to the county’s general fund of just over $1.5 million more than the current cost of staff at the Fifth Street jail, which some county officials say the county can’t afford.

Both Lawless and Commissioner Bill Pratt would like to see the state provide some operational funding along with the building.

“We could forego structural things, capital improvements, if we could divert money toward operational costs,” Lawless said.

Earlier this month Pratt, who chairs the jail committee, asked the state to provide $5 million over a three-year period as the county transitioned into the new location.

“(A state corrections official) seemed kind of hopeful that something might work out,” Pratt said. “ I am keeping my fingers crossed. Jackson County is having the same issues and is trying to find a way to solve their problem.”

A possible partnership between the two counties could offer a solution, Pratt said.

“Lawrence County would have control of the facility,” he said. “Without any source of revenue or state help, we won’t be able to do it.”

Lawless agrees the move can’t be made without “proper funding.”

“I want to do everything I can to make this thing work,” he said. “I hope the state can come through with operational funds. I want this thing to work.”