By Wayne Allen
On Thursday the Lawrence County Commissioners voted yes to enter into an agreement with the state on leasing a building on the campus of the Ohio River Valley Juvenile Correctional Facility (ORV) located in Scioto County for a jail.
“On Tuesday we had a hearing where we were able to gather information. We heard testimony from the sheriff, we heard in the past from judges, our prosecuting attorney, our auditor and we’ve heard from the public,” said Les Boggs, Lawrence County Commissioner. “We do not take something like this lightly, I’ve been commissioner since 2009 and frankly this is the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make.”
Boggs said the commissions have taken this issue seriously and have studied the facts.
“There are good points and bad points. We have a building setting empty that the taxpayers have already foot the bill for approximately $40 million,” Boggs said. “There are 2015 (jail) standards that will be released and we already know our current jail will not meet those standards. I would not say the (current) facility in antiquated, but it’s real close.”
Lawrence County has been in the process of trying to find a bigger facility for it’s jail for some time. The current jail is regulated to hose 27 prisoners daily and their typical daily count in the jail is around 80 prisoners.
In a effort to find a solution to this problem Lawrence County has been in conversations with state officials about leasing a building on the OVR campus, imparticular the Liberation Unit.
When asked about the unit Commissioner Bill Pratt said, “it is set up to hold 120 (prisoners). There are four pods, each pod has 25 cells with five cells in each pod are double bunked. The state has allowed us to double bunk all of one wing, if we chose to do that.”
Pratt said this facility is quite different from the current Lawrence County Jail.
“The state has told us, we have six months or until January 1 and at that point they will hold Lawrence County to the 27 prisoner variance they allowed in our jail,” Pratt said. “It (current jail) was built for 52, we have 58 beds, but routinely we have anywhere from 70 to 80 inmates in that jail.”
He said if the commissioners don’t make the move the county would be faced with finding a place for 50 prisoners a day.
Currently Lawrence County has a contract with Scioto County to hose ten inmates a day.
Pratt said as a result of the move the contract with Scioto County would likely be canceled.
Pratt said with the additional space the commissioners would consider eventually leasing beds to other counties for additional revenue.
Aa apart of the plan STAR Community Justice Center located next to ORV has also expressed interest in moving into the remainder of the facility that Lawrence County does not occupy.
Boggs said one of the other advantages for Lawrence County of moving into the new facility is the ability to partner with STAR for shared services, such as utilities, laundry and food service.
Boggs said as apart of the agreement the state has agreed to make $542,000 in improvements to the unit to bring it up to current standards before them move-in.
Boggs said it will be about a six month waiting period before the county could move-in while the state makes the improvements.
Pratt said one of the other challenges the county and the commissioners will face is finding the necessary funding.
“Worst case scenario it could be up to a million dollars in additional costs to the county. Best case scenario somewhere around $300,000 to $400,000,” Pratt said. “It’s really hard for us to pinpoint that figure because it depends on if there is any out of county revenue, which we can’t determine if there is a market for that. We think there is a market, but we have not secured any contracts of that sort.”
Pratt said public safety and services are the top priority in the county government
According to Pratt with the passage of House Bill (H.B.) 483 the Lawrence County Sheriff would have jurisdiction of the building and the Lawrence County Prosecutor would have jurisdiction to prosecute crimes that occur in that facility.
H.B. 483 was passed by the House of Representatives, the Senate and signed into law on June 16. This provision will go into effect on Sept. 15.
Pratt said with the move STAR is anticipating creating an additional 50 jobs and Lawrence County would be hiring an additional 15 or 16 people for their jail operations.
Commissioner Freddie Hayes Jr. agreed with the other commissioners calling this the toughest decision he has had to make since getting elected commissioner.
Hayes offered the motion for the commissioners to, send a letter to the department of administrative services to begin discussions on a lease of the ORV facility (Liberation Unit), with the following terms; a one year lease for 15 years, the facility be brought up to current standards, metered off utilities to separate the Liberation Unit from the rest of the facility.
All three commissioners voted in favor of the motion, with several county officials in attendance.
Wayne Allen can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 228 or on Twitter @WayneallenPDT