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Scioto jail could be used as county jail

Moving the substandard county jail to a facility in Franklin Furnace is still on the front burner. But if that falls through, there appears to be a Plan B.

That means reaching out to Scioto County, just in another way.

This time it would be to use part of the Scioto jail for Lawrence prisoners, according to Lawrence County Commissioner Bill Pratt.

“They were saying if they had some kind of long-term contract, they would be willing to expand their jail,” Pratt said. “If there was a five or 10-year contract with Lawrence County, they would be willing to consider doing that.”

About a year ago, the state offered to Lawrence a 100-bed unit in the former Ohio River Valley Juvenile Correctional Facility in Franklin Furnace. The rest of the center is slated to be used by STAR Community Justice Center for its imminent expansion.

As far as Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless is concerned, moving to Franklin Furnace is still a top priority.

“I am continuing to move the ORV project forward,” Lawless said. “Certainly I look at all the alternatives.”

Pratt set up the meeting that was held on Feb. 3 in Scioto County with Lawless, Lawrence County Auditor Jason Stephens, the Scioto County Commissioners and Scioto County Sheriff Marty Donini.

“I wanted to smooth things over and prevent any bridges from being burned,” Pratt said. “That was where we were headed.”

At the meeting the group discussed the contract Scioto County had offered Lawrence — increasing its per-bed rate from $48 to $60 a day for an inmate, but without a minimum number of beds the county was obligated for per day. Previous contracts required a 10-bed a day minimum at $48 an inmate.

That contract was recently accepted by the Lawrence commissioners.

“No, we don’t have a minimum, but we don’t have a maximum,” Pratt said. “If we want to start sending more prisoners to Scioto County, we could. Scioto County is positioned to be a regional jail.”

Right now the move to the ORV is expected to cost the county $1.3 million annually on top of the current corrections budget.

As Pratt sees it, the move hinges around whether the county can use $500,000 that two of the budget commission members — county prosecuting attorney and county treasurer — want earmarked for the move.

No money can be spent by the county until the budget commission certifies that it is there. Stephens refused to allow increasing the certification by the $500,000. That resulted in the budget commission asking for an attorney general’s opinion on who has the authority to determine the certification.

“Until we have that opinion from the attorney general, nothing is going to happen,” Pratt said. “If he says (the prosecutor) is right, Jeff will be able to move down there if he wants to or he can say ‘I can’t afford it.’ If the opinion is for the county auditor and you can’t appropriate that $500,000, then the move is not going to happen without a decision from the sheriff.”

Even if the county used a portion of the Scioto jail for its prisoners, there would still be the need for a revenue source.

“It would still be much better than trying to find a home for prisoners throughout the state,” Pratt said.