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Published: 1/6/2004

Seneca plans jail addition for federal detainees

BY STEVE MURPHY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

TIFFIN - Hoping to keep federal dollars flowing into Seneca County s coffers, the board of commissioners agreed yesterday to build a $1.37 million jail annex to house federal immigration detainees.

County officials said they acted to avoid losing revenue from the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is centralizing its holding facilities in Ohio. The agency has a detention center in Trumbull County, in eastern Ohio.

Seneca County received nearly $700,000 last year to house detainees from the bureau, but federal officials had said they would stop using the county jail unless capacity was increased.

“If we don t do something, we re going to lose that revenue,” Commissioner Joseph Schock said.

Sheriff Tom Steyer said the jail had 70 federal detainees yesterday and 50 local inmates, putting the facility over its capacity of about 115.

“If we can t provide everything they need, I m sure they are going to pull out,” he said.

County officials have relied on revenue from the federal agency to ease an ongoing budget crunch that has forced layoffs of county employees, including sheriff s deputies.

At Sheriff Steyer s urging, the bureau increased the average number of detainees in the Seneca County jail from 25 early last year to 65 in the fall. The resulting revenue increase allowed the sheriff to rehire two laid-off correction officers and restore 11 others from part-time to full-time hours.

Sheriff Steyer said he hopes to house up to 100 federal detainees each day in the annex and the jail, at a daily rate of $55 per person. At those levels, the county would receive just over $2 million a year before expenses.

He said he wants the facility ready by June but added, “I m not sure that s realistic.”

Roy Bailey, Detroit field office director for the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the federal agency would help train county corrections officers to work with detainees from dozens of foreign countries.

“I want to start off slow, because I want the staff to be able to handle this,” he said. “If I just give you people and money, it s not going to work.”

The dome-shaped, 10,500-square-foot facility will have 85 beds and be built north of the sheriff s department at State Rt. 100 and U.S. 224. Such structures typically are built around a metal frame with a vinyl-coated membrane stretched over it.

“It s a rubber building,” Mr. Bailey said.

County officials said that type of construction could be done at less than half of the cost of a masonry structure.

The jail annex will be similar to a 160-bed facility Monroe County, Michigan, opened in October, 2000. Half of the jail in Monroe Charter Township is allotted to federal detainees.

Charlie Rondo, the Monroe County administrator, said officials are generally pleased with the building and their arrangement with the federal government. The county gets $60 a day per detainee, which helps cover the cost of operating the dormitory-style jail.

“That just covers our costs,” Mr. Rondo said. “We re not getting rich on this thing. ... Our costs go up every year.”

Commissioner Jimmie Young said the county checked with the Ohio Department of Youth Services and found that the jail annex could be renovated into a juvenile detention center if it was no longer used as a jail. The county has discussed building a youth center for years.

In addition, the commissioners acknowledged some unease at having to borrow money to build the facility. But Tom Distel, president of the board, said revenue from housing the federal prisoners would allow the county to pay off the loan in two years.

“If you look at the situation and the income you can bring into our general fund, it s something we can t turn down,” he said.



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