When will aging Brown County jail reopen?

Posted at 9:12 AM, Jan 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-21 12:19:05-05

GEORGETOWN, Ohio — More than 2 months after the overcrowded and outdated Brown County Adult Detention Center closed its doors in November, county leaders are looking ahead to when the facility might reopen.

Right now, leaders hope the jail doors will reopen as early as the “first part of May,” according to Brown County Commissioner Barry Woodruff.

But they definitely won’t reopen until jailers are sure other doors — namely, cell and common room doors throughout the facility — can be closed and locked.

Aging and faulty locking mechanisms on these doors created what Brown County Sheriff Dwayne Wenninger deemed an unsafe working environment, directly leading to the jail’s closure on Nov. 12. An investigation was launched leading up to the jail’s closing when the Fraternal Order of Police filed a grievance on behalf of Cpl. Dana McGuffey after corrections officers found themselves surrounded by unsecured inmates in a jail common area last October.

Prior to that incident, conditions had deteriorated to the point that Cpl. Austin Fulton advised his staff to “stay off the block” until certain safety issues were resolved.

At the root of these incidents, records show, were the faulty locks, a security issue jailers had been documenting as early as 2013. As shown in numerous reports, jailers found dozens of faulty locks throughout the aging facility.

To restore the locking system, the county has commissioned Alabama-based company Willo on a $345,000 contract.

“That [total amount] is for everything,” Woodruff said. “It’s a lot less than we thought it was going to be.”

Woodruff said initial cost estimates totaled as much as $1 million.

Willo is tentatively scheduled to begin removing the old locks as early as February, Woodruff said.

The $345,000 comes on top of the $25,000 the county already spent trying to fix the locks, which have since been deemed too old to repair.

But the locks aren't the only insufficiency making the jail a money pit for the county.

Overcrowding was also a documented issue at the jail for some time leading up to its closure, a problem a WCPO investigation revealed is prevalent across southwest Ohio.

According to a 2013 inspection report, there were 82 inmates housed at the facility at the time, when it was only fit to hold 38.

When the facility closed in November, deputies transported more than 80 inmates to the Butler County Jail in Hamilton. For the month of December alone, Brown County owes Butler around $130,000, Woodruff said — a cost that fluctuates from day to day, depending on the number of Brown Co. inmates that need lodging.

“We got it down to 62 inmates [at one point],” Woodruff said. “Now it’s up to 74 inmates.”

So, where’s all this money coming from?

Woodruff said county leaders are looking at every angle.

“We’ll just have to make the money available,” he said. “We’ve been very frugal.”

In addition to directing state casino money toward offsetting costs — money that would have otherwise been allocated to construction projects and road maintenance — Woodruff said the county also has saved money through layoffs.

“We laid off four part-timers and four full-timers,” Woodruff said. “Everyone else is waiting or cleaning [the jail]. We’re finding things for them to do.”

Ultimately, Woodruff said, county leaders still don’t know if they’ll need to borrow money to get the upgrades done.

“We’ve had some local banks come forward and offer their services,” he said.

“We knew this day was coming. The day of reckoning just came about 4 months earlier than expected,” he said.