County continuing to field options for jail

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County continuing to field options for jail

By Jessica Johnston, Assistant News Director

The USDA has now come into the discussion for the proposed new county jail.

As a topic that has been looming around the county for four years now, the Muskingum County Commissioners are working to put their foot down or pull out of the idea entirely. During a meeting Thursday afternoon, Commissioner Cindy Cameron said, by this point, it’s time to set the plans or not do it at all.

That being said, when USDA representative Dave Douglas questioned the commissioners on their ideal timeline for the completion of a jail, Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz quickly answered, “2015.”

“The end of ‘17, start of ‘18, we really started seeing the, the need for out of county housing cause we were just full,” Lutz said following the meeting. “And when you are talking about being full, you know, you’re taking on a lot of risk, a lot of chances of lawsuits, a lot of chances of inmates and officers getting hurt.”

With regulations and standards set forth by the Bureau of Adult Detention, Lutz said it’s not possible to house all of Muskingum County’s inmate inside the county.

On Thursday, Muskingum County had 206 inmates in jail with 178 in the county jail and 28 being housed in Monroe County. Of the 178 inmates, 52 are females.

Lutz, and the USDA representatives, stated that women are the quickest growing demographic of inmates.

Douglas stated during the meeting that a sheriff in another county recently spent four hours attempting to find a jail in the state to hold a female inmate.

Not only is housing an inmate out-of-county expensive in itself, Lutz elaborated that it’s not just the daily in-house cost that puts a dent in budget but also the transportation costs, gas and maintenance to a vehicle that’s repeatedly driving to Monroe.

In a previous meeting, Commissioner Jim Porter stated that during one of the summer months in 2018, about $34,000 was spent simply in housing inmates in other counties.

In an effort to keep the cycle of inmates moving, Lutz said there have been occasional cases where a lower-level offender may get out of jail up to 10 days early to make room for a more violent offender.

“Obviously they’re lower level offenses, obviously you don’t want to be put into the position of having to do that because obviously we want the judges to have a jail to put those people in,” Lutz said. “And then if they do something to our community members, our community members want them off the street, they want them locked up.”

Attempting to reach a final decision on the jail project, the USDA offered financing options for the commissioners as the organization has more recently financed jails in both Monroe and Fayette counties.

Douglas advised that the next logical steps for the process, given that the county decides to move forward, is to collect a preliminary architectural review, an examined opinion and an environmental review.

To keep the costs as low as possible, Lutz said his plan was to not waste too many funds on the initial projections and plans and leave the bulk of the cost to building the structure. Additionally, he stated that the way Muskingum County Jail currently operates, it requires more staffing than a modern facility of its size would demand.

Given the current staffing levels, if the plan were to come to fruition, both Lutz and the commissioners are looking to build a facility that wouldn’t require more deputies leaving all the additional cost in the building of the jail.

The meeting with the USDA was another meeting in a series of opinions being fielded by the commissioners and no plans have been set forth as of the time of publication.

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