GEORGETOWN – After a tour of the Brown County Adult Detention Center on Monday, Feb. 8, the Jail Task Force met in Georgetown at the office of the Brown County Commissioners. One change to the Task Force was the name. They are now the Criminal Justice Task Force, after evaluating what the Task Force has on its plate, they felt the name change was justified to the cause.
Not only is the Task Force looking at facilities, but they are looking at all aspects of what it takes to operate a jail. They have the jail, the courts, and policing as part of public safety for the county.
However, the immediate task at hand is to evaluate the facility. After their last meeting, before any choice were made or directions were taken, the Task Force wanted the numbers of what it cost to operated the Brown County Adult Detention Center. Task Force Chairmen Paul Hall and fellow Task Force Jim Myers were “tasked” with finding out that information. Their numbers came back raised eyebrows in the room. Hall said the numbers were as close as they could get, but something are just not tracked as efficiently and effectively as they could be. For the year, the numbers run that is cost about $2 million to operate the jail. Now the Sheriff’s Department operates on just under a $3 million budget. However, there are cost covered by the County that do not come from the budget of the Sheriff’s Office. Things such as utilities, health insurance, PERS, liability insurance, and maintenance are all things handled through County General Funds. Myers and Hall said that with a population at only 38 inmates, the cost per person per day is roughly $145, significantly higher than the Sheriff’s Office reported $35 per inmate per day figure.
“It is my belief, as of today, unless we make major changes, we need to get out of the jail business,” Hall said to the Task Force. “At $140 per day, it’s not what I want to do, but if the new Sheriff and unions aren’t willing to work with us the only option I see is to shut her down. We can’t operate at $140 per day (per inmate). Even if we get the State to say ‘you can double bunk’, you’re still at $70 per inmate per day.”
The numbers given to the Task Force by Hall and Myers revealed a cost of $78 per day for 70 prisoners, $68 per day for 80 prisoners, and $61 per day for 90 prisoners. Hall emphasized to the Task Force these were only approximate numbers, but close. He said given some of the way funds are distributed and paid for by the county, it was impossible to pinpoint to the exact dollar amount the cost of the jail only. The Task Force next task is to determine which direction to take on the facility. The newest idea is expanding the existing building with dormitory style cells, like what had been done at the Clinton County Jail.
“Clinton County would love to have us come up,” Hall said. “What they have done, is built a dormitory style jail with much fewer staff than we are using for sure. What they are basically using is one female and two males for 40 prisoners per dorm. Much more efficient. That is one thing.”
Hall also said Clinton County used a non-profit organization to help them evaluate the problems with jailing and to build an efficient facility. The Clinton County Jail opened in 2000 and has 88 beds. The facility uses dormitory style housing for the inmates and was build to use the least amount of man power to get the most work. The Brown County Adult Detention Center is not designed in a way to minimize staffing to maximize results. Currently, there are 12 correctional officers working at the Brown County Jail full time despite being closed, with the exception of holding cells. Twenty-one inmates passed through the holding facility on Feb. 8 as they prepped for their court appearances. The Sheriff did lay off four full time correctional workers and four part-time jail workers but has not laid off any other workers despite a jail not in operation. The Task Force called it a shoving match between the Sheriff and the County Commissioners.
“This County cannot afford to fund people’s salaries and benefits for an empty jail and pay Butler County $140,000 a month,” Commissioner President Barry Woodruff said. “Something is going to have to give.”
Willo, the company contracted to repair the jail, is working to get the facility reopened during the month of April. They began work last week and are continuing to work to get the jail doors repaired. According to their estimation, retrofitting the doors would be a 45 day process if they were not met with any snags along the line. Even once the jail opens, the Task Force will have the unfortunate task of suggesting where to go from there.
“It is difficult to decide where we are going until we decide what we are going to do,” Hall said. “We can start talking about anything until we find out what we can do legally. If we have 38 inmates back there or 76, it is really going to make it or break it for us.”
Woodruff said the problem of over crowding isn’t a Brown County problem, it is an Ohio problem. The state is no longer tracking the number of inmates in state prisons, however, the are forcing restrictive numbers of counties and then fining counties who exceed their allotted amount. Woodruff said countries know the state won’t shut them down, but will dock money from them. That leads to inmates being packed like sardines in county jails across the State of Ohio.
The Task Force has laid out the beginnings of a plan to evaluate the options. They have suggested looking at Clermont County as an option for male inmates while housing the females in Brown County. They had suggested expanding the current facility to meet the needs of the community by adding dorm-style housing. The idea suggest the dorm style housing could add as many as 80 inmates and still have 38 housed within the current jail. The other suggestion is building a regional facility while partnering with neighboring counties to hold inmates. While all suggestions will be weighed, ultimately the direction of the Task Force falls on the taxpayer.
Every option, with the exception of housing inmates off-sit requires a substantial amount of money to move forward. Adding to the current facility is roughly estimated to cost between $5-10 million dollars while building a new facility could cost upwards of $40 million. Woodruff said the only way to get that kind of money would be a public safety levy.
The Task Force said this would be a long drawn out process. They are not going to have answers in a few meetings or a few months. Hall said he didn’t know if the Task Force could have an answer by the end of 2016. But, those involved are committed to the long-haul of ensuring the county is getting the “most bang for its buck.” At this point, all options are on the table and the Task Force is hoping to leave no stone unturned as they move forward evaluating the Adult Detention Center.