By Wayne Allen
The Lawrence County Commissioners are expected to vote Thursday whether or not to take over a portion of the former Ohio River Valley Juvenile Correctional Facility (ORV) located in Scioto County for a jail.
In May of 2013, officials from Scioto, Lawrence and Jackson counties met with state officials to tour ORV to brainstorm possible uses of the closed facility. State Representative Dr. Terry Johnson took a leadership role in bringing regional officials together to talk about possible reuses of the facility. One of the possible reuses discussed was a regional jail. One of the notions that sparked the idea of a regional jail was the need Lawrence County has for a new county jail. ORV was initially considered a potential solution, even though it is located in Scioto County.
After the meeting, Lawrence County officials continued conversations with state officials about possible use of the facility.
On Tuesday, the commissioners held a work session, and according to Commissioner Bill Pratt, “we pretty much decided what we’re going to do there yesterday (Tuesday, July 1), but we’re not going to disclose it until tomorrow (July 3).” Pratt said in conversations with state officials who own of the facility, they have offered to lease of a building to them for a dollar a year up to 15 years.
Pratt said if the commissioners vote in favor of the proposal, the county would lease the Liberation Unit from the state.
“The more aggressive youth were there in that particular unit and is the newer portion of the facility,” Pratt said. “It is set up to hold 120. 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 house 10 inmates a day. If the commissioners make the move, Pratt said the contract with Scioto County would be canceled.
He said that with the additional space the commissioners would consider eventually leasing beds to other counties for additional revenue.
“It appears there is a problem housing female prisoners throughout the state. We’ve talked about filling one pod. We have some where between 18 and 21 female prisoners a day,” Pratt said. “If we could house 30 in one wing then we could take some out of county female prisoners. That will help off set our increased costs.”
One of the biggest questions that has surrounded the conversations about the issue in Scioto County was law enforcement jurisdiction. According to Pratt and confirmed by Johnson’s office 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 if the county proceeds with the proposal they would have to double its current jail staff.
“We’ll have to have 32 staff, and that’s still double what we have in our current facility. We only have 16 corrections officers there,” Pratt said.
He said the additional staff would be considered Lawrence County employees and all taxes would be processed as such.
Under the terms of the proposed agreement, the state would remain the owner of the structure and Lawrence County would be responsible for maintenance and upkeep.
Pratt said that if the commissioners pass the proposal the next step would be serious budget discussions.
“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.”
Mike Crabtree, chairman of the Scioto County Commissioners, said, “even if they have jurisdiction over the facility, they still have to go through (Scioto County Sheriff) Marty’s (Donini) jurisdiction to get to and from it. So, who’s going to be responsible for their prisoners en-route from Lawrence County to the facility.”
Crabtree said Lawrence County will have a number of issues to contend with if they go down this path. He said he believes if Lawrence County were to cancel their contract with Scioto County, there would be other counties that would be interested in the space.
“You know the problems we had, when we opened up the new jail and where it put the county in a short period of time or contributed to the problem we had (financial). I think they are going to find, no matter what kind of seed money the state puts into it, they are going to have to carry their own weight with that facility and that may or may not be a blessing to them,” Crabtree said.
Wayne Allen can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 228 or on Twitter @WayneallenPDT.