Officials to work on jail solution
IRONTON -- Lawrence County officials will work with representatives of the STAR Justice Center in an effort to take over the former state youth prison in Franklin Furnace, Ohio, to expand the community-based correctional facility and provide space for up to 200 county prisoners.
If the state allows for the expansion of the Justice Center and Lawrence County officials can lease about 100 cells in the former youth prison in Scioto County, it could provide about 56 local jobs. When the Ohio River Valley youth prison closed several years ago, about 330 people lost their jobs.
More than a dozen state officials met in Ironton on Wednesday afternoon to discuss ways to deal with the overcrowding problems at the jail across the street from the Lawrence County Courthouse. County officials have been told there's no money in the capital budget currently being discussed in Columbus for a new county jail, said Commissioner Les Boggs.
"We are at a crisis point," Boggs said. The jail, built in 1972 with a capacity of 52 prisoners, routinely holds 70 or more prisoners, and the county spends about $400,000 a year to house prisoners at several other county jails around the state.
Boggs called the 42-year-old jail possibly the worst in the state. "Our facility is out of compliance" with state jail regulations, he said. State jail officials earlier this year agreed to a variance to allow the county to hold up to 27 prisoners. He said the county has spent about $200,000 in the past few years to make improvements at the jail, including new lighting and a new roof.
Eddie Plilbaun, director of the STAR Community Justice Center adjacent to the former youth prison, said he could expand operations at the site and provide about 50 new jobs.
The community-based correctional facility houses low-level felony offenders as part of a 130-day program that is an alternative to prison. The center currently holds 150 male and female offenders and has a four-month waiting list for new prisoners. The expansion could allow for an additional 200 or more new inmates.
The county could hire six more corrections officers to staff jail operations in Frankliin Furnace with money it saves from housing prisoners in other county jails, said Commissioner Bill Pratt.
Sheriff Jeff Lawless said a long-term lease would have to be worked out before a move could be made. An agreement also would have to be made with Scioto County Sheriff Marty Donini.
State Rep. Terry Johnson called the current Lawrence County Jail situation unacceptable. "What I want us to do is brainstorm and come up with a workable solution," he said.
Gary Mohr, director of the Ohio department of rehabilitation and corrections, said it isn't feasible to expand the jail at its existing site.
The county doesn't have the $7 to $8 million it would cost to build a new jail, Boggs said.
He called the proposal to use the former Ohio River Valley youth prison to expand operations at STAR and provide 100 beds that could house up to 200 prisoners held by Lawrence County authorities a workable plan. "I'm excited about it."
He said an action team would be named to pursue the idea.
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