One of the fundamental questions facing this region is: how and where to house a growing population of incarcerated individuals. Counties throughout southern Ohio have been playing the shell game with inmates, now it looks as if Scioto County could be the home of a regional jail.
When Scioto County built its current jail, it was facing overpopulation and various other issues facing the jail. The previous jail housed roughly 90 people and the current jail was built to house 190 people.
The jail was expanded with an expectation of leasing the extra beds to other communities looking for a place to house inmates.
After a bit of a rough start, Scioto County has signed agreements with various communities from around the region to house their inmates for a fee. The fee was intended to help cover the cost of housing the inmates and jail operations.
Bryan Davis, chairman of the Scioto County Commissioners, said when housing out of county inmates there are some associated costs, including transportation and medical care. Davis said the medical costs are continuing to rise with the county picking up the bill.
While the Scioto County Jail has served as a solution for other communities looking to house inmates, the local incarcerated population has continues to rise.
This issue has not gone unnoticed by the sheriff or the commissioners. Davis said a team of people are looking for solutions to the problem.
“We are being challenged with the population of our jail. Many times over the last year, we were over population and we’re looking at avenues to help our sheriff as much as we can in reducing that population,” Davis said.
Davis said the commissioners will soon be meeting with county judges to discuss various options to help with jail overpopulation.
“We’re (Scioto County Commissioners) very limited on what we can do, but we’re looking into some avenues on what we can do, to reduce costs,” Davis said. “Crime does not pay, but it sure does, cost a lot.”
Two of the counties under contract to house inmates are Pike and Lawrence Counties.
Pike County will send inmates to Scioto County because they do not have a jail of their own and Lawrence County will send inmates to Scioto County because their jail is too small.
“There is a great debate going on in Lawrence and Pike Counties on what they are going to do about their jail,” Davis said.
At one point Lawrence County with the states approval was considering moving their jail to state property in Franklin Furnace, which caused a number of conversations to take place over one county relocating their jail to another county.
According to recent reports, the Lawrence County Commissioners are making moves to relocate their jail to Franklin Furnace, although the commissioners are working towards that direction.
Although the idea of Lawrence County moving their jail is not dead, there are a number of questions that would need to be resolved before a move could occur.
At the core of the Lawrence County issue is affordability it and if they can how long can it stay operational.
“There is a lot of discussion being had right now in our (Scioto County Commissioners) office and the commissioners of Lawrence and Pike County. There is a lot of discussion to what is needed to be done to address inmate housing,” Davis said. “From our standpoint, it’s our responsibility to take care of Scioto County and our sheriff is dealing with a rising population, dues to an increase in crime in this area.”
Davis said it is getting harder and harder to become a regional jail without expanding the current jail.
Scioto County Commissioner Mike Crabtree said the problem counties are facing, is there’s a limit to how many inmates one jail can hold.
“We built the jail with 190 beds, which was 100 extra beds and now we’re to the point where Scioto County with our prisoners alone are 50 people over, with no space to lease out,” Crabtree said. “Lawrence and Pike counties have a problem, but we (Scioto County) could easily be in trouble again with an overpopulation.”
In previous discussions about the possibility of expanding the current Scioto County Jail, the commissioners agreed it would only make sense. Scioto County would have the necessary staff and it could lead to the possibility of other communities bringing their inmates to be housed there.
No time line was established if an expansion were to place, was established only that conversations were ongoing within Scioto County and other communities it has housing contracts with.
Wayne Allen can be reached at 740-353-3101 ext. 1933 or @WayneallenPDT on Twitter