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Inmate housing option costly

Is it a case of 6 of 1 and half-dozen of another? Not enough money stopped the county from moving its jail down to a Franklin Furnace facility to stem the ever-growing overcrowding.

Now a way to keep down daily census numbers — housing prisoners out of county — is racking up bills the county wasn’t expecting.

“We are sending more and more inmates out of county,” Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless told the county commission at its regular Thursday meeting. “The state wants us to keep our numbers below 52.”

That figure was the capacity of the Fifth Street jail when it was built in the 1970s.

To do that Lawless sends prisoners to Morrow and Scioto counties.

Right now there are 27 prisoners a day at Morrow, a 350-mile round trip, with five in Scioto’s jail. Both jails charge $55 a day for each inmate.

For years the county had an agreement with Scioto for a guarantee of 10 beds. However, the latest contract removed that promise. Scioto officials, who have expressed their objections over Lawrence moving its jail to their county, say their jail population is too high to take any more than five inmates at a time.

“In addition to the cost of housing the prisoners I am burdened with an increase in correction officers’ overtime and the wear and tear on the transport van,” according to Lawless. “The majority of the prisoner population is non-sentenced felons waiting to go to common pleas court. When we house these prisoners there, we have to bring them back and forth for court and (attorney) conferences.”

Because of that, corrections officers must go to Morrow twice and sometimes three times a week. That adds up to a cost of $416 per day in overtime per each of the two officers on the trip.

“This overtime will increase my payroll budget needs by at least $25,000 for this year,” the sheriff reported. “We only have one transport vehicle that can make that trip right now and it is beginning to wear out.”

On top of an additional appropriation for overtime, Lawless requested $46,000 to purchase a van.

“Within the next eight to 12 months, the van will have to be replaced,” the sheriff said.

Typically, a vehicle is available between five to six months after the order is placed, he said.

“We are right on the cusp of beginning a dire situation,” Lawless said. “We could nip it in the bud and order the van right now without any delay. I think in the big scheme of things to have the ORV would have been a godsend for our county, so much potential, right in our backyard and not traveling across the state. We will be spending the same amount of money by housing, overtime, and vehicle purchase and repair. We will find in the long run spending the same amount of money to keep these numbers (of inmates) down.”

Commission president Les Boggs told the sheriff to check back next week to see if the county can afford those requests.