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Greene County to study new jail needs

Greene County commissioners want to hire a consultant to do a jail needs assessment as part of their plan to build a new county correctional facility.

The assessment needs to take into account not only the jail’s current needs and those 25 years in the future, but also “judicial process efficiencies, alternatives to incarceration, transformational incarceration programs … potential future staffing” and structure of the sheriff’s office, according to the county. Bids are due by June 15.

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County commissioners have held two informal meetings with community members to discuss a new jail, including one with judges/law enforcement and another with mental health professionals.

The Greene County Jail was built in 1969 and has been under a federal consent decree since 1989 due to overcrowding, Sheriff Gene Fischer said.

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“We’ve had to release inmates based upon that consent decree daily. We don’t have the space. The other facility is not built for hardcore inmates,” Fischer said.

The downtown jail isn’t the only aging law enforcement facility, he said. The sheriff’s office building was constructed in 1910.

On average, Greene County processes about 350 people a month at the jail, according to Jail Administrator Kirk Keller. Annually the number of people who are housed at the jail for periods of time can be as high as 5,500, he said.

Last year an inmate was injured while trying to escape, Fischer said.

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“Jail construction would allow for different ways to watch the inmates,” he said. “Are we getting enough bang for our buck on the number of people we have to hire in the current facility versus what if we had one super facility that was built more to handle what we’re watching?”

Discussions so far have focused in part on reducing recidivism and keeping people out of the facility.

Fischer said he supports the idea of creating a “very good re-entry program” or expanding the county’s current Greenleaf program, an alternative to jail judges can use to sentence people with low-level convictions.

Potential costs of building a new jail haven’t been established.

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In neighboring Warren County, an architectural firm has been hired by county commissioners to work on designing a new jail. The estimated $50 million project could be completed by 2021, depending on whether the commissioners opt to build new on the outskirts of the city or expand the current facility in Lebanon.

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