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‘Can’t afford move’

Pratt reverses position on ORV facility

 

There’s no money, so there shouldn’t be any move. That is the position of at least one commissioner on why the county should not turn part of the former juvenile correctional facility in Franklin Furnace into the county jail.

Commissioner Bill Pratt officially withdrew his support for moving the jail to the now closed Ohio River Valley Juvenile Correctional Facility in neighboring Scioto County, that the state had offered to the county.

“If (the state) doesn’t have a half-million, it is not going to happen,” Pratt said at the commission’s regular Thursday meeting. “It is not sustainable. (It is asking) too much of the sheriff and too much of the deputies. Lawrence County can’t afford to make the move.”

Next Thursday at 10:30 a.m. the state is hosting a town meeting at Ohio University Southern-Ironton on its offer. Expected at the forum, which is open to the public, are Lawrence and Scioto County commissioners, Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless, state director of rehabilitation and corrections Gary Mohr, and representatives from the governor’s office. County prosecuting attorney Brigham Anderson will moderate.

Pratt said he will be there, but if there is no money from the state, he will continue to oppose the move.

Commissioner Freddie Hayes said he remains committed, however, to the decision to go to Franklin Furnace.

“I respect (Pratt’s) position, but I am standing behind the move,” Hayes said. “It is the only option that we’ve got.”

Calls made to commission president Les Boggs’ cell phone were not returned by press time.

For several years the county jail has come under fire for failing to meet state standards with the threat that the facility could be closed. If that were to happen, the county would face the expense of other jails housing its inmates.

Pratt had headed up an ad hoc committee to review the state’s proposal that the county use a 100-bed unit of the ORV.

“We started out trying to determine the right move to make,” Pratt said.

After Pratt’s committee and the full commission voted for going to the ORV, Pratt asked the state for $5 million to cover operations.

After the state denied that request or any other for operational money coupled with a lack of additional county revenue, Pratt’s position shifted.

“The straw that broke the camel’s back was when we signed the lease, a week later the state came down and gutted the building,” Pratt said.

Desks, chairs and other office equipment that Lawless thought his office could use at the jail were removed by the state. Lawless was also told all locks at the facility, including those on the cells, would have to be changed.

Pratt said he was opposed to borrowing money to invest in an out-of-county building.

Lawless said the move can’t be made without financial support from the county or the state.

“It would be awesome to have this facility and correct problems we have at our jail,” he said. “I would love to see us move down there. It is a state-of-the-art facility. The cost is going to be hugely expensive. From what they tell us there is no money. The county hasn’t given me a dime to make this move happen.

“But to sit back and do nothing is going to be devastating and hugely expensive to the county. We cannot continue on with the current jail. It has to be replaced in some manner. We are going to have to pony up now or pony up down the road.”

After Pratt made his statement, he told the other two commissioners that if they agreed with him and wanted to make a motion to rescind their support and cancel the lease, he would second that.

Neither commissioner responded.