Jail Move Still Uncertain in Lawrence County

IRONTON, Ohio — Built to hold 52 prisoners, Lawrence County Jail in Ironton, has routinely exceeded this recommendation, housing upwards of 74 prisoners at a time. For this reason, county officials have recently pushed to relocate the jail, aware that the move may require a shared services agreement (SSA) with neighbor, STAR Community Justice Center.

Located in Franklin Furnace, Ohio, just 13 miles away from Lawrence County Jail, the STAR justice center is a 150-bed American Correctional Association (ACA) accredited male and female Community-Based Correctional Facility (CBCF) and one of 19 such facilities in the State of Ohio. Last year, Lawrence County signed a 15-year lease with state correction officials, enabling county-use of this former youth prison beginning on April 1, 2015.

Through contracting an agreement with STAR Community Justice Center, Lawrence County Jail hopes to save money by sharing maintenance, food service and laundry costs with the separate facility. Despite the possibility of service sharing, each service utilized will continue to come at a cost to Lawrence County. Furthermore, in a statement by Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless, he acknowledged that some of the shared services may or may not additionally violate current collective bargaining agreements.

Regardless of these potential violations, in late May Lawless officially submitted a contract proposal between his office and STAR to the Lawrence County Prosecutor for review. Next, the prosecutor will review the contract and potentially submit the agreement for consideration by the Lawrence County Commissioners for approval.

However, one large potential setback to this contract indubitably remains: funding. The Lawrence County Sheriff’s office is currently facing a $100,000 budget deficit to complete daily operations. It is also estimated that the office would need between $1.2 and $1.3 million in additional funding to meet the needs of such a move, including the hire of 15 additional staff members, according to Lawless.

Due to these funding issues, including a cease in increased funds, no timeline for the jail’s prospective move has been established. Ultimately, additional funding to relocate the jail remains at the discretion of the Lawrence County Commissioners. Yet, county auditor, Jason Stephens has argued that projected revenue does not support the addition of $500,000 to the amount the budget commission was certifying for the county to spend.

Currently, it remains unclear as to when and if Lawrence County will be able to afford moving Lawrence County prisoners in the months to come.