Deal to house inmates under negotiation

October 25, 2018 GMT

IRONTON — The Lawrence County Board of Commissioners is negotiating with the STAR Community Justice Center to hold 50 county prisoners per day at the Liberation unit at the former youth state prison in Franklin Furnace, Ohio, for $1 million a year.

A key component of the proposal is to incarcerate and treat nonviolent offenders, some prior to trial, at a cost of $55 per day, said Commissioner DeAnna Holliday.

“The majority would be drug offenders,” she said.

Lawrence County Judge Andy Ballard supports the proposal.

“The key is to start treatment at the earliest stage possible,” he said.

The board set aside $750,000 this year to house and transport prisoners to other Ohio jails due to state restrictions to house only 52 prisoners at the Lawrence County Jail across the street from the courthouse in Ironton.

Through the end of September, the county already has spent $708,000 from that account, said Chris Kline, deputy county auditor. More money will have to be transferred into that account to get through the end of the year, he said.

“Lawrence County needs these 50 beds,” said Eddie Philabaun, director of the STAR Community Justice Center, which houses prisoners post-conviction from several Southern Ohio counties, including Lawrence and Scioto.

Holliday said she’s been working on the proposal for a year to help alleviate out-of-county transportation and housing costs and jail overcrowding.

“We’re working hard to ensure funding is available,” she said. “We’ve done a lot of work on this.”

The proposal has been endangered following a confrontation at a high school ballgame between Commissioner Bill Pratt and J.T. Holt, chief financial officer at STAR. Pratt subsequently sought a protection order against Holt. Another contention is the board’s refusal to pay a $64,000 bill from STAR.

“We need to move on this,” Holliday said of the proposed memorandum of understanding. “It’s a huge benefit to Lawrence County.”

The county currently is paying between $50 and $75 per day to house prisoners in other Ohio jails. The STAR proposal calls for a cost of $55 per day. STAR also would pay transportation costs to house the prisoners. Currently, Lawrence County is paying that transportation cost.