Brown County is addressing a serious problem at the Brown County Adult Detention Center, one that will end up costing the county money both in the short-term and the long term.
For weeks, months, and even many years, depending on who you ask, the Brown County Sheriff’s Office has had to deal with malfunctioning jail cell doors, and after an equal amount of time of stop-gap and short-term fixes, the Brown County Board of Commissioners has decided its time to look into a complete overhaul.
The commissioners met in a special emergency meeting on Thursday, October 22 at their office in Georgetown and gave Brown County Sheriff Chief Deputy Carl Smith authority to move all of the jail’s female inmates to the Butler County Jail in Hamilton, Ohio on an indefinite basis. It’s unclear whether BCSO Sheriff Dwayne Wenninger approved this decision. Wenninger did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
“Until we can get the doors to work properly, we are moving all our female inmates to Butler County and we’re going to put some of our male inmates in the female block,” Smith said. “That way we have more of them behind doors that actually work. It’s not a safe working environment for our people or the inmates until we get the doors fixed.”
According to the commissioners and Smith, while some of the male inmates are moved into the female block, maintenance workers, contractors, and engineers from different jail cell door companies can come in and give an estimate on how much it would cost to overhaul the current system.
As of press time there are 16 inmates currently locked up in the Brown County jail, according to the BCSO website, and with Butler County charging $70 per day per inmate, the costs for the county could rack up quickly. Brown County Commissioner Barry Woodruff said it was a tough decision but one that needed to be made.
“We were just beating our brains out (trying to find a solution),” Woodruff said. “We’re going to have to bite the bullet and spend some money on those doors.”
According to Smith and Woodruff, when the Brown County jail was built in 1980, the company that designed and built the cell doors went bankrupt during the facility’s construction. Within a couple of years, the company was out of spare parts, leaving the county to have to manufacture their own spare parts in a costly and time consuming process every time something malfunctioned with the doors.
More recently, a few of the cell doors, which open and close via an air pressure system, have either failed to close entirely or have not been able to activate the locking mechanism, leaving both inmates and BCSO corrections officers in danger should a inmate leave their cell. Smith said that 18 of the 52 doors within the jail are malfunctioning in some way.
“It’s a nightmare waiting to happen,” Woodruff said.
No inmates have attempted to leave yet, according to Smith, and even if they were to attempt to leave their individual cell, they would still need to make their way through at least three more locked doors before they’d be leaving the building, but it’s still a situation that Smith and the commissioners wanted fixed sooner rather than later.
“When it comes down to the safety of not only the inmates but the correction officers, it’s not fair to them to put them in the situation of a jail door that would not lock,” Woodruff said. “It was time to do something.”
Woodruff stated that for the past three weeks, the commissioners have been looking at companies that can provide retrofitted locking systems on the cell doors, including Southern Folger Detention Equipment from San Antonio, Texas, and another undisclosed company from Northern Kentucky.
Unfortunately for the county, those companies need to send in scouts to see how much a cell door project would cost, and Woodruff estimated that it could cost the county anywhere from $400,000-$500,000.
“The process really is, we have to have somebody come in and engineer what we need done,” Woodruff said. “It’s not like we order 10 doors from Kibler and hang them. What functions do we have and can we eliminate the issues. We are trying to streamline the process instead of putting band-aids on things.
“Then we’ll do a bid packet, that way anyone bidding on it bids on the exact same thing. All of that takes time to put together.”
As such, it’s unclear how long the female inmates will be out of the Brown County jail, but this process could take weeks, if not months to complete. In the meantime, the BCSO’s maintenance team are working to iron out the current issues the best way they can, but the commissioners understood that they were going to have to start paying for the overcrowding at the jail.
“I’ve talked to some of the corrections officers and road deputies and they’ve been an off and on problem since the mid-1990s,” Woodruff said. “I don’t want a federal judge looking across the bench and saying you knew you had a problem with this and you chose to do nothing. That’s not what I want to hear.”
Smith commended the commissioners for their decision to approve moving female inmates out of the jail in order to expedite the maintenance process as well as the bidding process for the door locking mechanisms to be replaced.
“I have to applaud the commissioners for agreeing to do this. It’s not worth the chance that someone will get hurt. They are willing to work with us until we can get these doors fixed.”
Brown County isn’t the only county nearby dealing with overcrowding. According to Woodruff, Adams County is sending inmates to Butler County, and Highland County won’t accept any female inmates from Brown County, due to overcrowding.
While the possibility of building a new jail in Brown County has come up in both the media and discussions amongst government officials, the likelihood is that a new one wouldn’t be built for many years.
Smith hopes those discussions continue to help deal with the current overcrowding in the jail, which forces the BCSO to have to violate some of the minimum jail standards set by the state of Ohio due to lack of space.
“What we need to do is get everyone together to put the plans on the table to know what the best one for the county is,” Smith said. “We’ve got to do something. We’ve got a jail that was designed in 1980 to hold 38 people. We’ve got to put all options on the table and figure out which is the best one for Brown County to go with.”