Bill could help county get new jail

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 27, 2021

COLUMBUS — A new measure, House Bill 101, was recently passed by the Ohio House of Representatives and might help Lawrence County get a new, desperately need jail in the future.

“That’s the plan,” said State Rep. Stephens, R-Kitts Hill. “It is one of the things we have dealt with in the county for decades, frankly. This sets the stage for a partnership between the state and local county governments to help construct jails that are efficient and better than what we are dealing with now.”

The Lawrence County Jail was opened in 1974 and was designed to hold 52 inmates.

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For the past decade or more, there has been an issue of overcrowding. It is also too small for current state standards, which requires about 55 feet of space per inmate. The jail has about 25 feet of space.

The new state program, if passed by the Ohio Senate, would give first priority to lower wealth counties, those least able to afford the cost of a new or renovated facility.

Stephens said the bill had wide support among the state representatives.

“Jail funding is a real problem for many, many counties, big and small, not just Lawrence County,” Stephens said, adding from big counties like Lucas and Cuyahoga to small counties like Lawrence, Vinton, Jackson and Gallia, all have the need for newer and better jails, which lead to wide support for the bill.

And groups like the County Commissioners Association of Ohio and the Buckeye State Sheriff’s Association support the bill.

In the House, it was unanimously voted out of committee and the House vote was 93–2.

“So, I am encouraged by the amount of support the bill has received, I think that bodes well for it over in the Senate,”

Stephens said. “But the Senate is totally different than the House and we will make our case over there, hopefully in the coming weeks.”

Stephens said if it passes in the Senate, jail construction funding could be part of the Capital Budget next summer.

The funding method for new jails is modeled after Ohio’s successful state-assisted school facilities program, which has helped local schools with school construction projects for more than 20 years.

Under the bill, counties would be ranked every other year, based on local property tax values and estimated taxable retail sales in each county. The lowest ranked counties would be given first priority, with the number of counties invited to apply each year based on how much funding is available.

The legislation approved does not include funding for the program, but the goal is to get the program into law in time for the state’s two-year construction budget, which is expected to be debated next year.

Guidelines for the program would be developed by the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission and the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, in consultation with county sheriffs and commissioners. The Ohio Facilities Construction Commission also runs the state’s school facilities program.