$500,000: Is it real or not?

Published 10:29 am Friday, June 26, 2015

Jail census keeps rising

 

BURLINGTON — Is there really $500,000 set aside to help fund moving the jail to Franklin Furnace. Or not?

That is what Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless was asked to find out when he brought up a myriad of needs for funding for his office.

“That $500,000 is kind of misleading,” Lawless said to the county commissioners at their weekly Thursday meeting. This time it was held in conjunction with a nightly meeting of the Concerned Citizens of Burlington.

“People think the sheriff is sitting on $500,000,” he said. “There is no $500,000 sitting in an account for me to spend. If that money has been placed, I would like to start purchasing items.”

Commission president Les Boggs said, however, as far as he is concerned the money should be there for the sheriff to spend.

“The $500,000 started in controversy,” he said, noting earmarking it began when the budget commission voted 2-1 to take a half-million dollars from the 2015 carryover for the jail move.

“(The commission) voted to appropriate that to a special line item,” Boggs said.

Boggs said the sheriff should issue a purchase order to the auditor’s office to see if it is honored or not.

“Buy something to see if it gets paid,” he said. “That will see about the $500,000. (If not) we can look at options after that.”

Chief deputy auditor Chris Kline, who was not at the meeting, however, said there is no special line item with $500,000 and the 2015 budget is online at auditor’s office website for review.

Chronic overcrowding at the jail for several years led the state to offer a section of the now closed ORV juvenile facility in Scioto County for a county jail.

Funding for the actual move and operational expenses thereafter has yet to be laid out in a definitive plan, despite the sheriff’s request for money.

Lawless recently sent out letters calling the jail situation potentially volatile with census hitting in the 90s daily. He called upon all the judges in the county to review their cases to see if any inmates could be released early or placed on home confinement. Right now, however, most inmates at the jail are felony cases, who can’t be released.

On Thursday, there were 91 in the jail that the state says should only house 27, with 22 more prisoners housed in out-of-county facilities.

“To continue to allow the jail to stay overcrowded isn’t safe,” Lawless told the commissioners.

He asked for funds to hire more road deputies to help with transporting the inmates who may go between 3 and a half and 5 hours one way to another jail.

He also asked to be able to hire additional corrections officers. Right now there are two per shift and if an inmate has to go to the emergency room that leaves one for the whole jail.

“If we were to have a fight, we would definitely need extra deputies in the jail,” Lawless said.

The state is continuing to get the ORV facility ready for the move, including adding special fencing, the sheriff said.

Adding a mandatory booking area would require the services of an architect and contractor, Lawless said he was told by Ironton contractor Bill Nenni. Cost is estimated at $75,000.

“At this point there is not a whole lot I can do on moving the project forward without money,” the sheriff said.