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Published: Monday, 4/9/2001

Lenawee officials debate fixes for jail concerns

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

ADRIAN - Lenawee County probably won't meet the state's April 20 deadline for addressing the jail's crowding problem, but other serious issues involving the facility should be resolved by that date, the sheriff said.

“If we make a decision by summer, we'll be lucky,” Sheriff Larry Richardson said.

Meanwhile, county commissioners are continuing to examine ways to fix the aging jail.

Sheriff Richardson will update county commissioners today at a daylong criminal justice committee meeting. Commissioners will hear from experts about the possibility of building an addition to the jail or buying prefabricated modular buildings to house inmates at another site.

Michigan Department of Corrections officials say they probably won't take action against southeast Michigan county for missing the April 20 deadline - as long as county officials continue working on the problem.

“Our job is not to be the micro-manager of the county jails in Michigan,” Matt Davis, a correction department spokesman, said. “Our job is to assess the jails, inspect them as we are required by law and then make recommendations.”

The department recently inspected the jail and found major problems with crowding, safety, maintenance, and staffing.

If the county commission doesn't address the issues, the correction department would refer the case to the state attorney general, who would try to get a court order to force the county to fix the problems, Mr. Davis said.

Sheriff Richardson said his staff is addressing maintenance, safety, and staffing issues, but has been hindered from fixing some of the problems because inmates are occupying every space in the jail.

And until the inmates can be moved to other areas to fix problems such as leaking ceilings, the jail will continue to deteriorate, said County Commissioner Larry Gould (R., Morenci).

“Maintenance hasn't been done in jail for a long time because we thought the voters would approve a new jail,” he said. “Now, we have two choices: Ask the judges to authorize early releases so we can move the inmates to open areas or disobey the order to fix the jail.”

Built in 1953 and later renovated, the jail is designed to hold 156 prisoners. For the last few years, the jail capacity has averaged about 200 inmates and often judges are asked to approve early releases.

Commissioner Rob Hall (R., Hudson) said he believes the solution will be a modular system.

Using the more than $3 million that the commission hopes to have saved by the end of the year, prefabricated buildings could be purchased, Mr. Hall said. How to pay for additional staff, however, is another problem.

“It's an uphill battle,” he said. “But we definitely aren't going back to the voters.”

In the last five years, voters have rejected three tax issues to build a corrections center.

“I haven't found a whole lot of sympathy for spending one additional dime on law breakers than what we do now,” County Administrator Bill Bacon said. “We understand that residents feel that what they're paying now is enough and we have to figure out how to make do with it.”



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