Clark County discussing new jail

Clark County talking about building new jail

A jail needs assessment and feasibility study found numerous critical issues with the Clark County Jail which has officials weighing immediate upgrades, the possibility of building a new jail or partnering with another county to house inmates.

Clark County Sheriff Deb Burchett said her staff is working tirelessly to make sure the jail is in compliance with state law and safe for both deputies and inmates.

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“The point of this study is to understand and evaluate the long term needs of our jail facility,” Burchett said. “We are thankful the Commissioners are sensitive to the viability of our jail. The feasibility study is still being evaluated and no long term decisions regarding the jail have been made.”

The Clark County Jail is nearly 30 years old and had an average inmate population of more than 200 inmates per day in 2018. The state recommended capacity for the jail is 167.

Officials stressed the discussions about the future of the jail are still in the early stages and no decisions have been made. However, one of the possibilities is to work with Greene County and other counties in the area to build one multi-county jail.

Some of the issues listed as critical needs at the jail are code violations in the jail’s main electrical room, malfunctioning fire prevention safety items like smoke detectors and fire pumps and damaged flooring.

The Clark County Jail isn’t designed for modern day criminal justice needs, DLZ Architect Eric Ratts said. DLZ created the jail assessment that’s been presented to both the sheriff’s office and the Clark County Commission.

“I think Clark County is facing similar circumstances that a lot of jails throughout Ohio and the Midwest are,” he said. “The jail was designed in a manner that does not necessarily reflect current trends in corrections. Specifically with respect to addiction, mental health behavioral management issues.”

About three out of every 10 inmates in Clark County has a mental illness, data from prison reform group Stepping Up Initiative says. Ratts said the jail isn’t designed to handle inmates with these types of needs.

“The jail needs a facility change and the facility needs to change to meet those needs,” Ratts said. “At one time the Clark County Jail was a state of the art facility but today the needs are very different.”

Renovations can solve many of the jail’s immediate problems, Clark County Commissioner Lowell McGlothin said, but the commission and law enforcement are starting to discuss what the future holds for the most important building in Clark County’s criminal justice system.

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“What we need to do is renovate as much as we can,” McGlothin said. “The cost is a big factor. A new jail would cost a fortune that we don’t have right now.”

Critical, potentially critical issues

The needs assessment and feasibility study performed by DLZ shows 14 issues at the jail that need to be fixed right now.

Included on the list are repairing structural concrete systems in the plaza, entry retaining wall and exposed concrete columns, replacing existing ceiling grid, panels and air devices throughout levels one and two, relocating generator exhaust systems and bringing the electrical room up to code.

To fix the critical issues alone will cost somewhere between $2.8 million to $3.3 million, according to the feasibility study.

“The commissioners and I are aware of the needs and currently looking at ways to fix the items in the ‘red,’” Burchett said. “Again, the idea of the feasibility study was to find the immediate needs and separate them from the ones that can be held off.”

The assessment also found several items defined as potentially critical that need to be addressed, necessary items that should be looked into and recommendations DLZ says county officials need to consider fixing.

Some of the potentially critical items are to eliminate water intrusion issue into the kitchen after heavy rains, refinish existing doors and frames and replace hardware with American Disability Act compliant types and add independent HVAC cooling units to the electronic rooms.

To fix all the suggested issues with the jail would cost the county $5.2 million to $6.2 million, according to the feasibility study.

Work has been done on the jail in the last year. In June, $10,000 was spent on material and supplies to make repairs throughout the jail. Work included upgrading pods at the jail — makeshift cells used when the jail is overcrowded — along with lighting and plumbing upgrades.

Overcrowding is a constant issue at the Clark County jail, county officials said.

“The numerous variables that affect our jail population are hard to pin down. Keeping our jail population at manageable levels is a priority of our office and we are assisted in this task by the judges and the entire Clark County criminal justice system,” Burchett said. “Our jail population is currently low at 139 inmates, but it will likely increase as we start into the summer months.”

An idea could be to expand the jail to make it bigger so it can handle more inmates.

That price tag is more than $15 million, according to the feasibility study, and the county would still be left with a 30-year-old jail.

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New jail is an option

Something needs to be done with the Clark County Jail, officials said, and it’s going to cost money.

“The jail does not effectively or efficiently do what they need it to do today,” Ratts said. “This is a large project and a large investment so the commission is going to be exploring every option.”

Building a multi-county jail is on the table, McGlothin said.

“It needs to be looked at for the future — cooperation with others to see if we could do a regional jail,” McGlothin said. “I think that would be a good idea and we’ve had conversations with another jail about it.”

Clark County Commission President Melanie Flax-Wilt and Commissioner Rick Lohnes said during a recent meeting that they had contacted Greene County to discuss options. Lohnes said that commissioners told him they had been in discussion with another county as well.

“I do like the multi-county jail idea as far as a cost factor,” McGlothin said. “It seems to make a lot of sense to help share costs.”

Going into a partnership with other counties to build a jail could save millions of dollars, according to the feasibility study. The study says if the county would to send inmates to another jail and pay rent, it is on average $48 a day.

At 200 inmates a day, the cost would be more than $3 million by the end of the year.

Burchett said she is willing to discuss the option.

“I am not opposed to exploring the possibility of combining jails with another county,” she said. “However we are still in the process of working through information received from the feasibility study.”

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