Montgomery County applies for $50 million jail grant for upgrades or new facility

Montgomery County has submitted another application seeking a $50 million grant for jail infrastructure in downtown Dayton.

There are no official plans for how that money would be spent, including whether it would be used to build a new jail or update the existing one, Sheriff Rob Streck said. A community group has voiced concern about the grant application and questioned whether the county plans to build a “giant jail” without community participation.

“Montgomery County is applying for a state grant, which, if approved, would provide us with $50 million for modernizing our jail, to include incorporating vital mental health treatment as well as critical care for inmates suffering with drug/alcohol abuse,” Montgomery County Administrator Michael Colbert said.

“When the time comes that we find ourselves with the financial means to rebuild the jail, we will include full community input, as we have always pledged to do.”

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Streck said the jail needs attention and staff is limited because of the jail buildings, which is why the county is seeking the grant from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

“It is outdated by today’s standards and it is a money pit when it comes to maintenance,” he said of the facility that includes some pieces almost 60 years old. “If the decision is made not to build a new facility, then we definitely need to start putting some money into our current jail.

”We’re having a lot of maintenance issues that we would need to be fixed. We have mental health and substance abuse issues, and we need more room to deal with these issues.”

The jail was found to be non-compliant during its 2021 state inspection for several reasons, including lack of space, noise levels, lighting and the number of showers, the grant application says. The Bureau of Adult Detention rated the capacity of the Montgomery County Jail as 443, the grant application says, but the inmate population has been more than 600 for much of the last two months.

The grant application lists the project as new construction that would cost about $187 million and have 938 beds. A Montgomery County Sheriff spokeswoman said that the information presented is from a needs assessment survey but there is no official design and officials are still in the early planning stages. The sheriff said the community would be involved and its input would be considered before any final decisions by the county.

The grant application says the new jail facility would be focused on providing care for those with mental health issues and drug and alcohol addiction. The current jail has little to no dedicated space to treat these issues, the grant application says, but the new jail, as proposed in the application, would dedicate 464 beds to those needs.

The project will provide space for inmates experiencing detoxification and withdrawals, create a safe space for those with mental illness and provide classroom space for substance abuse classes, the application says.

The Montgomery County Jail Coalition, a community group that consists of activists and concerned citizens that seeks to reduce the population in the Montgomery County Jail, released a statement opposing the grant application. It argued that there wasn’t reasonable notice or public debate before the commissioners approved the application’s submission.

“In addition to objecting to the lack of transparency and community engagement on the decision to request a massive sum of taxpayer dollars, the Montgomery County Jail Coalition is concerned that this grant would permit the county to move forward with stalled plans to double or triple the current size of the jail, a move that would be wildly out of step with local incarceration trends and best practices nationwide.”

They said the needs assessment that calls for a 938-bed facility relies on bad evidence and empty assumptions and that public officials should spend taxpayer money on alternatives to incarceration like diversion centers.

“These programs need continued and expanded support in order to see long-term cost savings for the county and more decent and humane options for residents,” the coalition said.

This isn’t the first time Montgomery County submitted a grant application to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. The application is similar to the one it submitted last year but was denied.

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The sheriff said multiple jurisdictions won parts of the money last year and it is likely that if Montgomery County is awarded money this year it wouldn’t be for the whole $50 million sum.

“We will continue to apply for these grants whenever they are available,” Montgomery County Spokesperson Deb Decker said. “The administration is relentlessly pursuing all grants and alternative funding opportunities to modernize the jail, so it will provide better outcomes for inmates who have mental health issues as well as drug and alcohol addiction.”

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