Proceed cautiously jail

Several local communities share a common problem, and they need to use creative, cautious approaches in their efforts to solve it.

Jail overcrowding is common in area counties. It’s an issue that continues to worsen as jail facilities age and as drug abuse and addiction problems grow. Belmont County pays Jefferson County to house some of its inmates and is considering construction of a new facility to house misdemeanor offenders. Monroe County recently built a new jail.

Now Harrison County officials are addressing the same concern. Commissioners last week authorized Sheriff Joe Myers to sign applications and agreements needed to acquire another building that could be renovated to serve as a law enforcement center and jail.

Myers hopes to acquire the SSG George J. Conaway U.S. Army Reserve Center, located about a mile away from the courthouse in Cadiz, for the project. The price certainly seems right — he believes he can obtain the facility for free.

Myers said the current jail, built in 1925, has space constraints and does not have a central heating or cooling system or sprinklers. It does not meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. He added that the jail population is up, in part due an influx of transient in the gas and oil industry.

A 2014 study determined renovation and expansion of the existing building would not be fiscally responsible. The building can hold only eight males and is always at capacity. Men accused of serious crimes, women and juveniles have to be housed at other facilities, which meant 47 percent of the sheriff’s budget in 2017 was spent on out-of-county transportation and housing.

The renovated reserve center could feature more appropriate accommodations including medical segregation, video arraignment and visitation capabilities, an outdoor recreation area and more. Myers said the minimal transportation costs to that location would be offset by savings from video arraignments and the reduction of out-of-county housing expenses.

But despite the fact that the building may be acquired at no cost, the necessary updates certainly won’t come for free. Myers and the commissioners must keep that in mind as they move forward and ensure that they don’t undertake a project that the county can’t afford.