By Wayne Allen
Star Community Justice Center of Franklin Furnace has been working on plans to move its operations to the former Ohio River Valley (ORV) Juvenile Correctional next door.
Matt McClellan, Deputy Director of Operations at STAR Community Justice Center said he has been involved in recent conversations with officials from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (DRC) and is optimistic for a November move.
“It’s taken some time for them (DRC) to get some things pushed through,” McClellan said. “We’re still on track, its slow moving but that’s about where we’re at.”
Depending on who you talk to, Lawrence County may or may not be moving their jail to ORV. When asked if they are anticipating Lawrence County to move their jail to the campus McClellan said, “As of right now the lease is still signed by Lawrence County and all signs from the state level, was that the lease is signed and that’s the direction they are planning on going.”
Lawrence County Commissioner Chairman Les Boggs says there is not a clear answer or an easy answer when it comes to their current jail situation.
“We’re still looking for a solution. It all boils down to money,” Boggs said. “It takes a lot of money to build a new jail. At this present time we don’t have a dedicated revenue stream for it. We’re continuing to search for one.”
Boggs sees the move to ORV as temporary, until the county could find a revenue source or find money to build a new jail.
“It’s going to cost money to do that (move jail), but if we set back and nothing it’s going to cost a lot more to ship all of those people out to other jails,” Boggs said. “Not only do you have to pay $50 a day for 50 people, which are roughly $900,000 a year, you also have to pay transportation cost to take them to and from other counties.”
Boggs believes Lawrence County will be able to move its jail to ORV at some point, but is not clear on how.
Lawrence County Commissioner Bill Pratt, says the move comes down to finances.
“In my opinion it’s (jail move) not going to happen,” Pratt said.
In 2014 the Ohio Legislature gave Lawrence County Sheriff and Prosecutor Jurisdiction over the Liberation Unit once it was being operated as a jail. A number of improvements or fixes have been made to the campus totaling $542,260.
Also many people in Lawrence and Scioto County have doubted the availability of funds to make the move and operate a relocated jail. Some estimates had the move costing as much as $1.3 million, in the budget process the Lawrence County Commissioners allocated $500,000 for the move. At one point the idea of a tax levy was discussed as an avenue of funding the move. Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless said one once the biggest obstacles to the move has and will continue to be funding. He said his office is currently facing a $100,000 budget deficit to run daily operations.
If Lawrence County relocated its jail, it would be housed in the Liberation Unit, with STAR utilizing the rest of the complex.
Pratt said he’s made a couple motions, during commissioners meeting to withdraw the county from a lease it signed for use of the Liberation Unit at ORV. He said the motions died without support from another commissioner.
Pratt thinks the state will eventually ask the commissioners to cancel the lease, if the unit can be used in another way. He said if the state takes actions to cancel the lease there has to be a 365 day notice.
“We don’t have the funds to make the move. In my opinion our best solution is to send additional prisoners out of county and that’s what the sheriff’s been doing lately,” Pratt said.
As a part of the move, STAR was planning to hire more than 50 people and expand programs offered. A number of people had been hired in anticipation of an early summer move. McClellan said they are finding things for those people to do in the facility. He said workers are also spending time at the new facility make the space ready for a move, such as floor and painting projects.
“We have a number of different vocational programs we’re looking at. We’re excited about the possibilities this new facility brings,” McClellan said.
Wayne Allen can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 1933 or on Twitter @WayneallenPDT