Ohio’s Fairfield County Jail to Send Out Bid Requests

LANCASTER, Ohio — Plans are underway for the new Fairfield County jail, as bid requests are scheduled to be sent out early this year. The new 384-bed jail and sheriff’s office will replace three outdated, overcrowded jails.

The county commissioners will first bid out work on the foundation before bidding out the rest of the jail project, which will cost between $30 million and $35 million, reported the Lancaster Eagle-Gazette. While bids are underway, the location of the jail is still yet to be determined.

The commissioners want to move forward with a jail at the current Wheeling Street jail location; however, opponents of the location say that building a new jail there could damage the city’s nearby water supply by forcing hazardous material from previous businesses on the site into the water below. The commissioners said that Westerville, Ohio-based Bennett & Williams Environmental Consultants examined the Wheeling Street location and found it fit to build on. The other option is to build it at the Liberty Center. Either way, the foundation work would be the same at either location.

Building the new facility became necessary after Fairfield County’s three jail buildings failed a state inspection again in 2013. The county had not passed one in 25 years, mainly due to issues of overcrowding. Sheriff Dave Phalen said that the three jails combined are supposed to hold a maximum of 133 inmates under state standards; however, they typically hold close to 270 inmates.

Overcrowding wasn’t as heavy of an issue when the discussion for a new jail began more than a decade ago; however, since that time the county has grown by 147,000 residents and the jails have also significantly increased, according to the newspaper.

Another reason for the growth of inmate populations include sentencing changes that divert low-level, non-violent felony offenders to local jails (instead of housing them in state prisons), according to Bob Cornwell, executive director of the Buckeye State Sheriff’s Association, in a statement. The Fairfield County Jail in particular has shown an increase in fourth- and fifth-degree felony inmates who would have gone to prison but were diverted to the jail instead because of the sentencing changes, according to a statement by County Commissioner Steve Davis.

Davis said the county expects to get the foundation bids back by late February or early March.