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State prison grounds could be spot for new jail

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The Lucas County jail on Spielbusch Avenue often is overcrowded. Commissioners are seeking sites for a new jail.

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Exploring sites for a new jail, the Lucas County commissioners have turned their sights toward the state prison grounds in North Toledo.

The commissioners are discussing whether building a jail behind the razor wire of Toledo Correctional Institution would save state and county dollars by splitting costs on things such as medical care, laundry service, and food preparation.

Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak, who is spearheading the initiative, said building a jail is critical, but it will be costly.

“If we could [build a jail] at a much reduced rate instead of building somewhere else, it could be a model for other areas,” Ms. Wozniak said.

The 26-year-old county jail on Spielbusch Avenue at the Civic Center Mall is routinely overcrowded and operates under a federal court order that dictates when and which prisoners must be released when the population reaches certain levels.

The jail has a capacity of 419, but sometimes the population reaches 550. The average is 500 inmates, Sheriff James Telb said.

With early estimates for a new jail reaching as high as $50 million, conserving dollars is important, particularly with the county s budget crunch, Ms. Wozniak said.

So far, the state has not slammed the cell door on the idea. Reginald Wilkinson, director of Ohio s prison system, has assigned Toni Brooks, a regional director, to explore the issue with the commissioners.

Ms. Brooks called the idea innovative. She said ultimately it may not make sense for the state to allow the county to build its jail on the site, but it is worth talking about.

“I believe that everything and anything is possible,” she said. “You don t know that it won t work until you sit down and discuss the possibilities. That s why we re having this brainstorming session.”

Toledo Correctional, which opened on East Central Avenue in 2000, has an annual operating budget of $26 million. The prison houses 790 close-security and minimum-security inmates.

Toledo owns land adjacent to the prison s campus, which Sheriff Telb said might be available for expansion if a jail is added to Toledo Correctional. The sheriff said locating at the existing prison campus would help solve the “not-in-my-backyard” mentality that might be encountered in other locations.

“It looks like there s some potential there,” he said. “There s some space not being utilized at this point. We re a long way from coming up with a proposal, but it warrants discussion and investigation.”

One of the biggest problems with the site would be having to transport prisoners from a presentence jail to the Lucas County Courthouse and Toledo Municipal Court. As inefficient as the existing jail is, it has the security advantage of being linked to each courthouse by underground tunnels through which prisoners are walked for court appearances.

Sheriff Telb said it is possible that the current jail could remain open in some limited form in order to house inmates who have upcoming court appearances so the tunnels could still be used.

Mark Lair, head of security for Lucas County Common Pleas Court, said that would be his preference, because using the tunnels makes it easier to protect the public.

“Anytime you re taking prisoners over land, through public streets, it s more of a security concern,” Mr. Lair said.

Using the existing site for a new jail is another option and other sites around the county will be explored, said Harry Barlos, president of the board of county commissioners.

Mr. Barlos said the current location has the benefit of being near the two courthouses, but one of the problems would be designing a facility that works within the confines of the Civic Center Mall.

The six-floor structure is seen as inefficient because it requires more deputies to guard prisoners than do one-floor or two-floor campuslike facilities that are now preferred.

“We could demolish the existing structure or make architectural modifications of the existing structure,” Mr. Barlos said.

Last week, the commissioners approved a $232,500 contract for the Poggemeyer Design Group to help them decide where to put a new facility.

Commissioner Maggie Thurber said she s not ready to sign on to any site until she has options before her that she can study.

“I do not have a preference,” Ms. Thurber said. “We have an existing facility that needs attention and we have a lack of space that has always caused us problems.”

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