• 59°

Jail meeting nixed

The meeting scheduled for Thursday afternoon between state officials and the Lawrence County Commission on the prospect of moving the county jail was canceled Thursday morning.

Originally, the meeting that was to include county auditor Jason Stephens and Rep. Ryan Smith, R-93, had been expected to go into executive session, according to commission president Les Boggs.

Instead Gary Mohr, director of the department of rehabilitation and corrections, met one-on-one with Boggs and commissioner Freddie Hayes Thursday afternoon, according to Mohr in a phone interview before the meetings.

The county is weighing whether it wants to move the county jail to the now closed Ohio River Valley Juvenile Correctional Facility in Franklin Furnace.

The state has offered a 100-bed unit at the ORVJC to the county for a $1-a-year lease. The remainder of the facility could be used by the STAR Community Justice Center, a rehabilitation center for those facing jail time for substance abuse. STAR is located next door to the ORVJC.

For several years the jail, built in the mid-1970s, has been in noncompliance because it doesn’t provide state standards for space required today for prisoners, as well as other violations.

According to those standards, the county jail should only house 16 inmates. Recently the state allowed a variance for up to 27 prisoners, but the jail daily census runs typically between 70 to 100 inmates. Because of that county officials are concerned the state may come in and shut down the aging facility. That would force the county to send all prisoners out of county at a higher cost.

Commissioner Bill Pratt has been chairing a jail committee for the past year and recently released information about the financial cost of moving to Franklin Furnace versus keeping the status quo or building a new jail. However, Boggs and Hayes had wanted to meet with state officials on the potential move.

Pratt favors the move as the best option; Hayes also looks favorably on the move if the county can afford it. Boggs has said he wants more information before making a decision.

In the interview with The Tribune, Mohr confirmed that the state views the county in non compliance but did not offer a timeframe for any action, saying it depends on the county’s decision about Franklin Furnace.

“The state is committed to hold Lawrence County to 27 capacity,” he said. “We are committed to hold that line. But we are not coming down as bullies from Columbus. … Once we know the status of the county’s action and timetable, we will discuss that with them.”

All options facing the county will cost more money than currently budgeted unless the county continues to operate as it is right now.

If the state says the jail could only house 27 prisoners, the remainder would have to be housed out of county. That scenario is expected to cost an additional $1,104,675 for 75 prisoners a day. On top of that would be costs for prisoners and public defenders to travel to and from the out-of-county jails.

To use the ORVJC facility, the cost was projected to be $1.5 million more than the current jail budget. However, Mohr said he could see efficiencies that would reduce that cost if STAR provided specified services to the jail.

“On the same campus as STAR efficiencies could reduce food costs,” Mohr said.

Currently there are two cooks at the jail who make $16.13 an hour and $12.88 respectively. Last year the higher hourly wager earner made $50,458.94 including overtime with the other cook earning $39,330.71 last year with overtime.

Since those two women are union, their positions could not be eliminated without the possibility of grievances filed against the county.

Mohr also said STAR could also possibly provide laundry and medical services for the jail for additional savings.

What the state will not provide is funding to operate the jail including paying for utilities.

The state has committed a half-million dollars to renovate the ORVJC, including putting on a new roof.

“We are committed to work with Lawrence County,” Mohr said. “The timeline is getting close. Part of the meeting today is probably to come up with a timeline. The timing is going to be pretty quick. We do have other interests (in the property).”