Greene County leaders are studying options for a new jail, the latest area county coping with issues pitting the age and design of existing facilities vs. the multi-million dollar cost of rebuilding.
Construction is expected to start soon on a new $54 million Warren County jail, adding space for nearly 200 more inmates.
Just last week, a citizens committee told Montgomery County leaders that a new jail was needed in the wake of more than a dozen lawsuits regarding allegations of overcrowding and treatment of inmates.
Sheriff Gene Fischer said he wants more space to house Greene County inmates and more treatment options to keep people out of jail cells.
“The old jail is rapidly losing its productivity,” Fischer said of the jail in downtown Xenia, which was built in 1969.
Greene County hired Omaha-based HDR architectural, engineering and consulting firm for $177,000 to assess the county’s needs for a new jail, what a new facility might look like, how it would be staffed and how it might function.
“The assessment team that was hired walked through the jail and determined its design was based on a 19th century model for housing inmates,” Fischer said.
HDR has presented four options for Greene County officials to consider for a new facility to be built on Greene Way Boulevard near the minimum-security adult detention center.
The options range from estimated costs of $56.2 million to $70.1 million, with the higher range estimated for building a new treatment center and abandoning the adult detention center.
Greene County Administrator Brandon Huddleson said it’s too early to identify how the county will find the money to build a new jail.
“My goal is between the sheriff and (commissioners) to be on the same page of, ‘This is the option out of those four that we’d like to adopt,’ ,” Huddleson said, based on what the sheriff is looking to do and what commissioners want to do.
Fischer said of the newer jails he has toured as part of the assessment process, Fairfield County’s facility in Lancaster is the best design.
Fairfield County’s new jail was opened in 2017 and can house 384 inmates with segregated cells for men, women and sex offenders.
“It’s pretty close to what we could use here in Greene County,” Fischer said. “It offers some of the same programs we would like to offer.”
HDR reports Greene County has a low incarceration rate, at 181 per 100,000 people, while the national average is 229 per 100,000.
Despite that positive statistic, the jail in downtown Xenia has been under a federal consent decree since 1989 because of overcrowding.
The downtown jail has exceeded its functional capacity since 2012 because of “a lack of the right types of beds,” according to HDR’s report.
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Greene County has an average daily population of 285 inmates for both the downtown jail and the adult detention center, and that is projected to increase to 366 inmates by 2035; the county needs to have a capacity of at least 420 beds to accommodate the increase, according to HDR’s report.
Montgomery County doesn’t have an estimate yet of how much a new jail, or major renovations, would cost, but one county official said it would top $70 million.
Franklin County is spending about $400 million on an approximately 2,170-bed jail, set to open in 2021.
In Warren County, the current jail holds about 280 inmates and periodically is closed due to crowding. The new jail will hold more than 460 inmates when it opens, planned for 2021.
To pay for the project, the county plans to use some funds already set aside and increase the sales tax by 0.25 percent for five years — expected to raise at least $50 million.
The old jail and sheriff’s office are to be used by the county courts and as a minimum-security facility for drug treatment and other programs.
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