Does Clark County need new jail amid overcrowding? Sheriff to study it

The Clark County Sheriff’s Office is expected to complete a feasibility study later this year to examine the long-time future of the Clark County Jail after it re-opened its temporary cells under the building last month due to overcrowding issues.

“This facility is 30 years old and it’s dilapidated,” Clark County Chief Deputy Travis Russell said. “We wanted to have a plan in place and this feasibility study and this is the first step to put that plan in place.”

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The sheriff’s office will soon send out a request for proposals for the feasibility study that would include examining the need for a new jail, Russell said.

“There’s a lot of questions, a lot of study and a lot of planning that’s involved with that, including the need, details and funding,” County Commissioner Rick Lohnes said.

The sheriff’s office was denied a request to donate the temporary cells for about 50 inmates made out of converted shipping containers and often called pods to Pike County last week amid concerns from local judges about a recent surge in the jail population.

Clark County commissioners passed a resolution last month permitting the sheriff’s office to donate the pods. However, commissioners voted unanimously last week to rescind that resolution after speaking with Clark County Common Pleas Court Presiding Judge Tom Capper about an increase in inmates.


“We just want to hold on to them until we see what the plan is and what the timing is for getting rid of them,” Lohnes said. “I know there’s been some discussion about maybe a more permanent structure down there, but we need to see what that involves. That’s all it is.”

Clark County Sheriff Deb Burchett supported the commission’s decision but has concerns about safety for both the deputies and the inmates in the pods, Russell said.

“She’s aware and I’m aware that there needs to be a long-term plan in place before those pods are moved,” Russell said.

Last May, the Clark County Jail closed the pods that housed inmates beneath the Public Safety Building after concerns about security and safety. The pods were re-opened in February as the jail faced issues with overcrowding. Once the jail count decreased, Russell said the pods were again closed.

“They are only used when our jail population becomes too high risk,” he said.

RELATED: Pods under Clark County Jail closed over security concerns

The Clark County Jail had 195 inmates during its last inspection in 2016 — 28 over its state-recommended capacity of 167 inmates.

The jail count increased to more than 245 inmates several times last month, according to an overview provided to Clark County judges. As of Friday afternoon, the jail count was 226, Russell said.

It’s unclear why number inmate numbers are up in recent weeks. A new crime lab that identifies drugs could have lead to an increase in arrests, Capper said. The sheriff’s drug interdiction team has also been busy, Russell said.

“It’s a significant increase,” Capper said.

The pods have been beneath the jail for about 12 years. They’re separated from the rest of the parking lot by a chain link fence.

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They were brought in as a temporary place for juvenile inmates when that detention center was under construction, but as the jail population grew, nonviolent inmates were moved there.

The pods, however, present security risks that aren’t present in the rest of the jail, deputies said last year when they closed them. The public can walk by and interact with inmates and possibly try to hand inmates drugs, officials told the Springfield News-Sun last year.

Clark County commissioners aren’t saying the jail should use the pods, Lohnes said, but they want to keep them around until a plan is place.

“We’re here to discuss the needs of what you really want done on a more permanent basis,” Lohnes said.

At its next meeting in May, the Clark County Criminal Justice Council will form a committee for finding a long-term solution for the overcrowding issue, Russell said.

RELATED: Clark County won’t accept grant that may overcrowd county jail

The average jail population in 2017 was 208, but its seasonal, Capper said. In January of last year, the average daily population was 195, but that increased to 221 in August, he said.

“It deviates a lot depending on which month you’re talking about,” Capper said.

Without the pods, the jail loses flexibility to house 48 to 60 inmates, he said.

The pods aren’t ideal and face security issues, Capper said. However, the population has fluctuated too greatly in recent months, he said.

“You can’t ignore the fact that (the jail) even on average is over its currently population,” Capper said. “You’re losing more than one-fourth of your ability to accommodate prisoners.”

The pods are also paid off, Capper said. The county should invest money to secure and staff pods better when needed, he said.

“I don’t think we’re doing a service to the county if we’re eliminating that flexibility,” Capper said. “I think that’s handcuffing the entire judicial system.”

If a judge thinks a person must go to jail but no space is available, he said it can lead to offenders being put back on the streets who probably shouldn’t be.

“(Judges) all try to keep people out of jail if that’s at all possible, but every judge has to protect their community,” he said. “Jail is the greatest leverage in which you can do that.”

The pods were re-opened again this weekend and two female inmates allegedly attempted to escape from one on Sunday.

Tanya Apple, 45, and Nichole Sexton, 33, each pleaded not guilty to escape charges on Monday.

A sheriff’s deputy was escorting another inmate from one of the jail pods to a visit about 5:20 p.m. Sunday, according to court records. The inmate allegedly told the deputy they needed to do a check in the pod because “they’re doing bad things in there,” the report says.

Sexton was allegedly found by deputies on top of a bunk trying to close a vent door that was hanging down from the ceiling. Inmates inside the pods allegedly told deputies Apple was also involved in opening the vent doors, the report says. Both Sexton and Apple were placed in isolation cells.


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By the numbers

50: Approximate number of inmates previously housed in pods under the Clark County Jail

12: Years the Clark County Jail has used the pods under the jail

195: Inmates in the Clark County Jail as of March 9

Staying with the story

The Springfield News-Sun has written extensively about overcrowding issues at the Clark County Jail, including recent stories about the pods being closed due to concerns about security and safety.

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