Jail work to begin

By Wayne Gates – 

Construction is set to begin on the Brown County Jail expansion within two weeks.
The first visible activity  will consist of tree removal as well as bringing in gravel and preliminary utility work.  The contractor is WAI Construction out of Piketon, Ohio.
The project will be paid for with $3.2 million dollars borrowed from First State bank at an interest rate of 1.75 percent.  WAI bid the project at $2,994,500, leaving just over $200 thousand dollars for contingencies.
The money will be paid back over ten years with two payments per year of approximately $174,000.  That works out to about $29,000 per month.
That figure is less than the county had been paying to Butler and Clermont counties to house overflow prisoners for nearly two years.
The project will be in three phases, with a 40 bed dormitory for low level offenders as the first priority.  Construction on that phase is expected to be complete next Summer.
The second phase will be a renovation and expansion of the sally port end of the jail, and the third part will be an expansion of the administration area.
Once the project is complete, the jail will hold 84 men and 26 women.  The current capacity is 26 women and 42 men.
“We are excited to begin moving forward with the project, because the quicker we begin, the quicker we can conclude it and provide some additional housing for prisoners in the jail,” said Brown County Sheriff Gordon Ellis.
One possible addition to the project was discussed at a meeting of the Brown County Criminal Justice Task Force on Oct. 17.
County Commissioner Barry Woodruff brought up the idea of building a shell behind the sally port side of the jail that could possibly house an in-patient drug treatment facility in the future.
“Everybody telling us if they had a building (for drug treatment) they could get funding to operate it.  Is that a possibility?”, Woodruff asked in followup interview with The Brown County Press.
Woodruff said that if there was ever a time to consider such an option, it was now while the project was still in the planning process.
The commissioners are waiting for a cost estimate for the addition before making a final decision.
Woodruff said that if a treatment facility were to be able to be housed in the jail complex, it would not be funded by the county or staffed by county employees.
“We are asked continuously if we’ve exhausted every option (for drug treatment), and that’s the last one I can think of,” Woodruff said.
He added that during a recent jail census, it was discovered that twelve inmates were waiting to be transferred to STAR, the state in-patient drug treatment facility in Franklin Furnace.
“To allow twelve individuals to sit there in the jail for up to a month waiting to go to treatment is very expensive,” Woodruff said.
It would also go a long way toward eliminating the jail overcrowding problem.
At press time, there were 82 prisoners in custody in the Brown County Jail.  Removing the 12 inmates waiting for drug treatment would cut that number to 70.
Clermont County has already given notice that the contract to house 20 men from Brown County will not be renewed when it expires at the end of March, 2018.
That means a gap of three to six months between when the contract ends and the new dormitory opens that will make prisoner housing at a premium.
The current average census has between ten and twenty prisoners over the capacity of 68.
“I think the judges, the sheriff and the prosecutor are doing the best they can do to keep the jail population as low as possible,” said Woodruff.
“But come the end of March next year, we are going to have a problem.”
Ellis said that he was well aware of the coming housing crunch.
“We know that the period between when the contract with Clermont County ends and the construction is continuing will be very challenging,” Ellis said.
“We continue to try to use every option and every opportunity to become proficient in moving prisoners and use the space we have to the greatest extent possible.”
Ellis added that an in-patient treatment facility like the one discussed at the task force meeting would also be a problem solver.
“That’s a very rapid answer to the problem of jail availability…If we had an in-county treatment program with twelve vacancies, that’s twelve jail spaces that I would have vacant tomorrow,” he said.