Other counties housing inmates

T-L Photos/ROBERT A. DEFRANK ABOVE: Belmont County Commissioner J.P. Dutton speaks with Jayne Long, clerk of the board, Wednesday. The county has begun to house female inmates outside of the county to alleviate crowding at the Belmont County Jail. The county has been housing male inmates outside the county for several years.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Overcrowding at the Belmont County Jail continues to pose a problem, with male inmates being housed outside of the county in order to alleviate the conditions. Now officials have begun to house female inmates in other counties as well.

On May 1, the Belmont County Board of Commissioners approved a contract with Monroe County to house Belmont County’s excess female inmates at a rate of $65 per day and with Noble County to house female inmates at $60 per day. The previous week, the commissioners signed a contract with Van Wert County to house inmates at a rate of $45 per day.

In recent years, the Belmont County Jail has housed male inmates at the Jefferson County Jail at a cost of $55 a day, although Belmont Sheriff David Lucas recently said that price may rise to $65 per day. The Belmont County Jail has the capacity to hold 24 women, but the number of female inmates booked at the jail has grown to about 60 in recent weeks.

Commissioner Josh Meyer confirmed Wednesday that eight female inmates were transferred out of the county last week, according to a report from the Belmont County Sheriff’s Office.

“We had to take some female inmates down to Monroe County. It’s the last report that we received. That’s within the last week, and we’re not aware of anywhere else they’ve transferred to now,” Meyer said. “I don’t know for how long that is, a short term or how long they’re going to be down there.”

He commented on the ongoing issue of jail crowding.

“If the numbers stay the way they have been, they’ll have to keep them down there. Conditions are very difficult when you have that many people in that building,” Meyer said.

“We’re consistently overcrowded, hence the contracts we have with other counties,” Belmont County Chief Deputy James Zusack said.

“We find inmates that fit into a category that can be transferred to other counties. We work on that daily. It’s a process we have to go through, because they have to fit certain criteria,” Zusack said. “We’ve got to send people that don’t have appointments here, per say. We can’t be taking somebody to a different county, then going down and picking them up, taking them to appointments. They’ve got to be people who are here for awhile and who have all their ducks in a row. It limits us a little bit, but it’s something we have to do with each inmate to make sure they can go.”

The current jail was built in 1996 with a capacity of 84 total beds. An expansion project in 2008 increased that number to 144 beds, but Zusack said the county outgrew that capacity within five years.

Law enforcement and the commissioners have pointed to increased illegal drug use and related crime as contributing factors. Some proposed solutions have included constructing a separate facility for female inmates or misdemeanor-level offenders.