Fairfield County Deals With Jail Expansion

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Fairfield County's recent jail expansion may not be sufficient to hold an influx of prisoners that could result from this year's revisions to Ohio state sentencing guidelines. The new state law requires local jails to house some lower-risk prisoners who previously would have been sent to state prison.

"This is a way to decrease the prison population from the state of Ohio, but in doing that, it puts more of the burden on the local jails," says Fairfield County Sheriff Dave Phalen.

Fairfield County Commissioner Mike Kiger says two Fairfield County judges have predicted the new sentencing guidelines could mean a 25 percent increase in inmate population at county jails over the next year. 

The county leased an empty state jail in November, where it now houses inmates who previously were sent to jails in nearby counties. Commissioners expect this third jail to save the county sheriff's office money and resources.

Kiger says it costs about $65 per day to house prisoners in other counties, but transporting a single inmate from another county requires two deputies to make four one-way trips between jail and courthouse for each court date. The county had been spending about $1.5 million each year to house inmates in other counties, Kiger said.

The jail annex at the Southeastern Correctional Institution building was opened to mitigate these costs. At this time, it is about 60 percent full, Kiger says.

Fairfield County currently houses about 250 prisoners, says Phalen, and the county's total inmate capacity between the three jails is about 275 beds.

In addition, Kiger says he expects the commission to grant another $9.1 million to run the rest of Sheriff Phalen's department next year. He expects the commission to vote on the budget on Tuesday, he says.

"We're looking at different ways to make this work," says Kiger. "We've been working on a new public safety facility for quite awhile now. What we're hoping is that this annexation can meet the needs of the county until we get a new jail in the works."

Both Phalen and Kiger say the best solution to the problem would be that new county jail, but in the current economy that is probably not going to happen.