IRONTON - Lawrence County officials have hired a firm to do a jail assessment study, said Sheriff Jeff Lawless.

The study would look at county finances, jail inmate population and costs, Lawless said Monday.

"It's supposed to start June 26 and it will take about six weeks to complete," Lawless said. Future growth size of a new jail also will be studied, he said.

The county currently is limited to holding some 52 prisoners at the 47-year-old jail across the street from the Lawrence County Courthouse. The county will spend between $800,000 and $850,000 this year to house prisoners in other Ohio jails due to limits on the current jail.

That limit is state-imposed. The county currently is holding some 60 to 65 prisoners in other county jails, Lawless said.

"We have been averaging about 120 prisoners a day, but those numbers usually go up in the summer," Lawless said. He would like to see a 150-bed jail, he said.

The jail assessment will take some time, said Commissioner Colton Copley.

"We're using the same firm Ross County used," he said. "We're also looking at pre-trial services" to help keep down jail costs, he said.

"We need to do a jail assessment, so we can have an intelligent conversation" about jail size and jail costs, Copley said.

"It's getting harder to find jail bed space for them," Lawless said of out-of-county prisoner housing. "The need for a jail continues to grow. It all goes back to drug problems."

There is no state money available to build a new jail, Lawless said. That will require the county to bear the brunt of the costs, he said. A larger jail will require more deputy jailers.

The state currently inspects the Lawrence County Jail about once a year. Gov. Mike DeWine has announced plans to improve the state's jail inspections system and expand the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction's Bureau of Adult Detention.

The state department currently inspects some 300 Ohio jails and temporary holding facilities.

Last year, the bureau rated 44 of Ohio's 88 full-service jails as being in non-compliance.

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