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Scioto officials question jail plan

Aug. 07, 2014 @ 11:44 PM

IRONTON -- Several Scioto County commissioners and Scioto County Sheriff Marty Donini are concerned about the lack of revenue that would occur if Lawrence County is allowed to house prisoners at the former youth prison in Franklin Furnace, Ohio.

Earlier this week, Scioto County commissioners voted to hire Chad Sayre to look into the legality and constitutionality of Lawrence County housing prisoners in a jail outside Lawrence County. Currently, Lawrence County houses 10 prisoners per day at the Scioto County Jail in Portsmouth. The county paid Scioto County $230,869 last year and have paid $104,138 this year to house prisoners in the Portsmouth jail due to lack of space at the jail in Ironton.

"I think the whole situation is stupid," Donini said Thursday. "They didn't bother to get the Scioto County folks on board. We're subject to losing revenue. I'm frustrated. I don't think it's right."

He's also concerned that if Lawrence County were allowed to open a jail in Scioto County, they would compete with him to house prisoners from other county jails. Scioto County is paying between $300,000 and $400,000 per year in debt service for the $12.5 million jail Scioto County built several years ago. Scioto County Commissioner Mike Crabtree said the potential lack of revenues and the legality issues prompted him to push for the hiring of outside legal counsel. "There's definitely been a lack of communications on this," he said. Crabtree also doesn't like the way state officials have handled the issue.

"I'm aggravated by the way this was handled," said Scioto County Commissioner Doug Coleman. "I feel we were blindsided. "This is about a quarter of a million in our revenues we're talking about."

Lawrence County Commissioner Bill Pratt said state jail officials and legislators, along with Scioto County officials, have been invited to the former youth prison to discuss the issue. State jail officials have offered to spend some $540,000 to make repairs to a section of the youth prison to make it ready to house Lawrence County prisoners.

The jail in Ironton, built in 1972, was designed to house 52 prisoners. The jail routinely houses about 20 more than that, forcing some prisoners to sleep on mats on the floor. However, state jail officials said the 42-year-old jail will be able to house only 27 prisoners next year.

"We're in a bad spot with the jail," Pratt said. "We feel we should be allowed to use (the former youth prison). We're not to the point where we can build a jail. We're not trying to step on anyone's toes."

State and local officials are scheduled to meet at the prison Aug. 21, Pratt said.

"We need to discuss a timeline," he said. "We also need to figure costs and discuss shared services" with the STAR Community Justice Center which would take other sections of the former youth prison owned by the state. STAR also would be able to expand its services to house prisoners for up to a six-month program local judges use as an option to sending prisoners to state jails.

In other action, Bill Nenni, chairman of the airport advisory board, said local pilots say improvements need to be made to the 3,000-foot runway at the Lawrence County Airpark on County Road 1, west of Chesapeake. He also recommended the commissioners hold off on a proposed lighting improvement project at the airport and return a grant to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Board members agreed to the proposal.

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