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Jail’s future looms

If the county turns part of the now closed Franklin Furnace juvenile correctional facility into its new jail, it will have to pick up the tab for its maintenance and part of the utilities.

That was the result of a conference call Commissioner Bill Pratt had with state officials on Thursday. That was not what the county wanted to hear.

In March the state offered a section of the former Ohio River Valley Juvenile Correctional Facility as a potential county jail following the repeated failure of the current facility to pass state inspections.

In May at a meeting between the two parties, the county asked for a triple net lease where the state would continue to own the ORVJC, take care of all its maintenance and pay for all utilities.

“They are not going to maintain the facility,” Pratt said. “That is kind of a problem for me. They are going to put a new roof on and repair any structural problems, any malfunctions, so it will be ready to go, if we move in.”

While the state won’t pay for all the utilities, it did not have a figure on what the county’s portion of that would be during the conference call.

“I asked them to give us a firm figure that would be constant,” Pratt said. “They are going to try to pin down that figure.”

The state wants a 15-year lease for $1 a year. The state also will not provide any funding to the county for operations, if it takes over the ORVJC.

“I stressed the fact we don’t have the funds to make it work correctly,” Pratt said. “But there are not additional funds. The (department of rehabilitation and corrections) doesn’t have that kind of money. They said it could open the floodgates for what other counties could ask for.”

The state is granting a variance as far as the number of corrections officers it will allow cutting that figure down from 39 to 32.

In about two weeks the state will present a quasi lease describing what it will and will not allow.

“They don’t want to go through the legal motion and Lawrence County not do it,” Pratt said. “It is something to receive and study and possibly say yay or nay.”

The jail has been under fire for several years for failure to provide the state standard of cell space, along with other infractions. Because of those space regs the county jail should only house 16 prisoners.

Recently the state allowed a variance that upped that figure to 27 inmates. However, right now the county jail will house between 70 to 100 inmates daily.

Pratt wonders if the county turns down the ORVJC offer, the state will enforce the variance.

“Say, by Sept. 1, that you can only have 27 prisoners,” he said. “That will show a little bit of teeth on their part whether they are going to crack down on Lawrence County.

“What it boils down to, to me is the cost of not doing it is going to be so much greater than doing it.”

If the jail were only allowed to house 27 prisoners, that would cost the county $2,604,675 or $1,104,675 over the current jail budget because of the cost of housing additional prisoners out of the county. If the jail were shut down, that figure would go up to $2,722,372 or an additional $1,222,372.

On top of that Pratt said there would be additional costs for public defenders to travel to out-of-county jails to confer with their clients. Last year the county spent $301,531 for public defenders, who are paid $40 an hour for out-of-court time and $50 an hour for time in the courtroom. These attorneys are also paid for travel time or $40 an hour, plus mileage. Of the $301,531, the state reimburses the county a percentage. Right now that figure is 35 percent.

Recently legislation passed by the Ohio House and Senate gives Sheriff Jeff Lawless jurisdiction over the ORVJC even though it is in Scioto County. It also gives County Prosecuting Attorney Brigham Anderson the authority to prosecute incidents that would happen at the facility. It also allows the county to take prisoners from other counties.

That is path Pratt thinks the county should pursue, if it were to move the jail to Franklin Furnace. Taking in out of county prisoners is one way Scioto County currently adds to its revenue.

“We have handled Scioto County with kid gloves, but in order to close the (cost) gap, we have to have revenue,” he said. “If it is decided we make the move, it is important for the sheriff and commissioners to actively pursue out of county inmates for revenue sources.”

Pratt intends to present the state’s lease in an open session to be received and studied.

“At that point it will be up to the commission president when or if it will be on the agenda for an up or down vote,” he said.