Montgomery County Commissioners voted Tuesday to begin seeking proposals for an expansion of the Montgomery County Jail, a structure that currently “does not provide a minimally adequate environment for staff or inmates,” according to a recent study critical of the jail.
“You can have 12 individuals that are literally in the space living in the size of a lot of people’s kitchens,” said Sheriff Rob Streck. “It’s well-known, as far as spacing goes, that we do not meet the jail standards for Ohio in most areas of the jail. It is time to look at coming up to standards and doing what the community expects, doing what the state of Ohio expects.”
The resolution commissioners approved calls for the county’s facilities management department to seek proposals from companies to perform a jail-needs assessment, provide a facility program and create a project definition and implementation plan.
Streck said the jail will hold 966 inmates. On Tuesday, 735 inmates were in the jail. But current state jail standards recommend an inmate population of no more than 443 for the space allocated in the jail for housing.
Original construction on the jail dates back to 1964 and is hampered by poor plumbing, erratic heating and cooling and a faulty design that can be degrading to inmates, Streck said.
“If you are in what we call the linear housing side, and you have to use the restroom, you are doing it in front of 12 people. If you have to take a shower, you are doing it in front of 12 people.”
The Justice Committee for the Montgomery County Jail, whose members spent nearly two years studying the physical plant and jail operations, recommended the county build an entirely new building to improve conditions, but many of the issues can be remedied without going to that length, said Montgomery County Administrator Michael Colbert.
A substantial addition that includes the octagonal units facing West Second Street went up in 1991-1992, according to the county.
“We are not envisioning a full teardown of the jail,” Colbert said.
“Some part of the jail will be new … And some parts of the jail need to be repurposed and moved out of corrections and into programmatic areas,” he said. “So we’re talking about a major enhancement of our jail complex.”
The first planning phase will cost roughly $450,000 but it’s far too premature to start calculating a price tag for the entire project, Colbert said. After the initial planning, which is expected to last through February 2020, the project will move into an architectural phase where overall construction costs will begin to emerge, he said.
“We won’t have a cost estimate until we get out of this phase, but it is going to be an expensive venture,” Colbert said. “Anytime you’re dealing with jail construction, that is not inexpensive, we recognize that, but we need this phase. We don’t want to start throwing out numbers and not know where we’re going. We recognize there’s going to be a cost associated with this.”
Streck said it was a “big day for the sheriff’s office, a big day for Montgomery County.”
At least 14 lawsuits alleging the mistreatment of inmates at the jail have been filed in recent years, including since the Justice Committee formed in March 2017 under the threat of a federal civil rights investigation.
A federal class-action lawsuit filed last July alleged overcrowding, and in December an inmate filed a suit naming as defendants, the county’s board of commissioners, former Sheriff Phil Plummer, as well as the man she claims sexually assaulted her in jail, former corrections officer Franco R. Villella.
An informational meeting is scheduled May 15 for firms interested in working on the initial studies. Sealed proposals are due May 29, according to the county.
Streck cited another reason at Tuesday’s county commission meeting for moving ahead with a jail project.
“There’s also one other very important factor about our jail – the reason we really need to keep on top of things and make sure we are humane in everything we do – there are innocent people in that jail,” he said. “There are people in that jail who have been accused of things they are not guilty of and they will have their day in court to prove that.”