By Wayne Allen
Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless recently stated the idea of moving the Lawrence County Jail is sitting idol. According to Lawless, the idea is not moving forward for a variety of factors out of his control.
The original idea to move the Lawrence County Jail called for them to move into the former Ohio River Valley (ORV) Juvenile Correctional Facility in Scioto County.
The plan was to also have STAR Community Justice Center take over the remainder of the ORV campus for its services. Once the moves were complete, the plan would have Lawrence County and STAR sharing certain services to cut down on costs.
When asked about STAR moving, Matt McClellan, of STAR Community Justice Center, said that there are contractors currently at ORV working to complete projects before they would move.
“We’re in a dynamic place right now. We’ve got some contractors over there, finishing some projects. Obviously when you get into something as large as ORV, you run into a few snags along the way,” McClellan said. “We’re still on track to move and we’re hoping soon.”
McClellan said that discussions are ongoing with the state about transition plans, to move from one facility to another.
As a part of a possible move, the Ohio legislature gave the Lawrence County Sheriff and Prosecutor jurisdiction over the Liberation Unit. There is concern because the state has not permitted one county to open a jail in another county. With these concerns and various others, Scioto County has hired outside legal counsel to look at the possibility of challenging the law that gave Lawrence County jurisdiction over the facility.
The recommendations of the outside council were not made public.
Since the inception of the idea, a number of people in Lawrence and Scioto County doubted the availability of funds to make the move and operate a relocated jail.
Some estimates had the move costing as much as $1.3 million; in the budget process the Lawrence County Commissioners allocated $500,000 for the move. At one point, the idea of a tax levy was discussed as an avenue of funding the move, but was never implemented.
Lawless said that the biggest obstacle to the move has, and will continue, to be funding. He said his office is currently facing a $100,000 budget deficit to run daily operations.
The Lawrence County Commissioners signed a lease for use of the Liberation Unit on the campus of ORV.
“I don’t think the commissioners have ever resended the lease, but we have not done any work to move that project forward for quite some time,” Lawless said. “The last word I got from the commissioners was they did not have the funding to make the move.”
Two of three Lawrence County Commissioners have withdrawn support for the move for financial reasons. No further actions have been taken to aid or prevent a jail move.
Lawless says the current Lawrence County Jail continues to face challenges.
“I’m in dire need of a new jail. We’ve outgrown this facility and it is past its prime,” Lawless said.
McClellan said there has been no timeline established for STAR to move to ORV, only hopes that it will happen sooner than later.
Wayne Allen can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 1933 or on Twitter @WayneallenPDT