County jail housing to expand
Written by JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN Sentinel County Editor
Wednesday, 30 January 2013 09:57
To avoid overcrowding at the jail, Wood County spent $127,000 last year to house prisoners outside the county.
|Building connected to the Wood County Justice Center that will be used to house inmates. (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
So on Tuesday, Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn again took his case to the county commissioners - asking for approval of a $5.2 million expansion at the jail. He secured a partial approval.
The commissioners agreed unanimously to support the $1 million renovation of the unused jail industry portion of the justice center to add 60 minimum security inmate beds.
But the support for the $4.2 million expansion of the booking area was less forth coming.
"We have to do that," Commissioner Joel Kuhlman said of the additional housing. "But the booking area is a completely different ball game."
Commissioner Doris Herringshaw agreed.
"I have no qualms about that," she said of the additional beds. "But the other piece, I'm not real sold on at this time."
Commissioner Jim Carter noted the uptick in housing starts and the increase in local sales tax revenue. "The sheriff has put a very good case before us."
And all the commissioners agreed the renovation of the booking area will need to be done at some time.
But "I don't know if right now is the right time," Kuhlman said. "I am very apprehensive moving ahead on big projects."
Wasylyshyn said he understood the hesitation on the booking area project, after all, "it's taxpayer money." However, he warned, "It's going to have to be done" at some point soon.
"Whatever you decide, we will live with," he told the commissioners.
Carter said the county could probably use its capital improvement fund to pay for the $1 million renovation.
"The money is there, we can do that," he said.
The expansion plan at the jail, located in the county's East Gypsy Lane Complex, has been on the back burner for years. The current capacity is 149 beds.
"We've been at or past capacity since I've been sheriff," Wasylyshyn said.
In addition to 60 new minimum security beds in the work industry area, the plan also calls for changing some of the existing minimum security housing into medium security. One section will be turned into more housing for female inmates.
Though the number of inmates at the jail has been creeping up for years, the large increase now might be blamed on state sentencing reform. The intent of sentencing reform is to reduce overcrowding and divert lower level felons from state prisons, where they are exposed to more hardened criminals. State officials want these people instead to be redirected to "community options," such as programs offering educational services, drug testing, parole, community-based correction programs or house arrest.
The problem, according to local officials, is that no additional money is being diverted to support the additional responsibilities. And all those type of programs locally already have waiting lists.
Consequently, those same felons will likely be behind bars - at county jails instead.
The jail expansion is more economical than paying to house inmates outside the county, according to Wasylyshyn. And once the beds are added locally, the county may recoup some expenses by housing prisoners from other counties, the sheriff said.
The more expensive part of the expansion would be adding cells to the current booking area for the jail. That will require an actual addition to the jail, stretching to the northeast of the present booking area, creating space to house 31 prisoners compared to the five now.
Wasylyshyn stressed the need for more holding cells since prior to booking the individual needs and risks of the prisoners have not been assessed. Consequently, they need to be kept separate in many cases, and need to be within the view of deputies in case they have medical, alcohol or drug issues. The sheriff referred to the booking area as a "funnel" for all traffic at the jail. "We have a bottleneck in our booking now," he said.
The changes proposed at the jail will not require more staffing, according to the sheriff. Instead, procedures will be changed to make operations more efficient.