County jail lease OK’d

Published 10:25 am Friday, February 27, 2015

Move will be made in steps


The lease was approved. Now comes the transition of the county jail down to Scioto County and it won’t come all at once.

“It will take small steps to make this work,” Lawrence County Commissioner Bill Pratt said following a vote at Thursday’s commission meeting to approve a lease with the state of Ohio to take over a 100-bed unit at the former Ohio River Valley Juvenile Correctional Facility at Franklin Furnace. The remainder of the ORV will be used by STAR Community Justice Center for its expansion.

Email newsletter signup

A section of the ORV was offered to the county a year ago to turn it into a county jail as the current facility has repeatedly failed to meet state standards because of extreme overcrowding.

Right now for the Fifth Street jail to meet state standards of providing required space for prisoners, the facility could only houses 27 inmates. On Thursday there were 77 inmates at the jail with a weekly average of 73.

The first step is to open up one pod that can hold up to 25 prisoners, while keeping the current jail open until the county can absorb the cost of operating all four pods.

An analysis from the county auditor’s office shows that opening a single pod would cost for six months $176,940, including salaries for the 10 additional employees, Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless says would be needed for that section. There would have to be two at the ORV around the clock.

“Those numbers I thought were pretty encouraging,” Pratt said. “That is the way to do it. That is what we thought all along. Open up one pod and staff it as we grow it. And you can get economies of scale as you open up more pods. Some of the staffing won’t change. It will be the same whether it’s one pod or four pods.”

With a base annual salary of $32,000, additional benefits would push that figure to $61,988 per employee annually. That includes $5,792 for state retirement and $23,732 for insurance.

Startup costs are estimated at $75,000 for sheets, blankets, sandals, mattresses, tables and chairs; utilities for the year at $100,000; $70,000 a year for food; $10,000 a year for medication; and $25,000 for repairs and miscellaneous. That adds up to $899,880 for 2015 with a half-year costing $449,940. The move, however, would eliminate the need for out-of-county housing which is $273,000, reducing a six month cost to $176,940.

Lawless wants to get the first move completed by the end of July or mid-August.

“I’m hopeful that everything comes to fruition and we are able to get into the facility,” he said. “This is a positive step forward to sign the lease. But I realize it is going to be hugely expensive and I will need the funds in order to move the project forward now.”

Those expenses include building booking and visitors areas. The state, however, is constructing a sally port entrance to the unit and fencing to separate it from STAR.

As the current jail is in non-compliance, the state could force the county to house only 27 inmates there.

“I am hopeful they won’t hold us to that 27 as we are showing them we are doing what we can afford to do by helping to relieve the overcrowding at this facility,” Lawless said.

The next step would be marketing the second pod as a place to house out-of-county female prisoners, the sheriff said.

“There seems to be a need for a place to house female inmates across the state,” he said. “If we could open the second pod for out of county prisoners, we could possibly generate some money to offset the cost to get the other two pods open.”