MIDDLETOWN, Ohio — In the past 15 years, every study conducted has concluded that Middletown is better served by maintaining a municipal jail and that it would be cost-effective to close and replace the facility.
For the past several years, Middletown officials have been struggling for what to do about that nearly 45-year-old city jail that costs more than $1.3 million a year to operate. The city completed studies in 2007, 2009, 2017, 2019 about the jail’s future.
Because of the underground design of the current jail, officials are concerned that if the plumbing under the concrete floor should fail, it could take more than $200,000 to repair and disrupt jail operations for up to a year. The electronic door system would cost more than $100,000 to replace, and the retro-fitting could disrupt the jail for months.
In previous discussions, municipal court judges, past police chiefs, the local Fraternal Order of Police union and many citizens have opposed closing the city jail.
Officials have also said closing the city jail would increase costs to transport prisoners to the Butler or Warren County jails and take officers off the streets and out of the city to transport and book prisoners.
The 9,391-square-foot underground jail shares space with police headquarters on the lower level of the four-story Middletown City Building. It was not designed for expansion, and the state’s recommended capacity is 34 inmates. The 76-cell jail is one of five municipal full-service jails in Ohio. Pre-pandemic, the city jail averaged about 42 male and female prisoners.
The state currently rates the city jail “status jail” because it is not in compliance with Ohio’s Minimum Jail Standards due to the city’s and at least six key standards are unachievable due to the design and current condition of the facility.
City Manager Jim Palenick and Police Chief David Birk have proposed the construction of a new two-story municipal justice center which would house a 164-bed jail on the first floor and the Municipal Court operations would be self-contained on the second floor. There would be secure public and staff entrances to the facility.
Palenick said the new municipal justice center could be located at the site of the current fire headquarters, 2300 Roosevelt Blvd. The city is planning to relocate fire headquarters to better cover the city.
The site would be on 13 acres already owned by the city, a portion of Goldman Park and the city would seek to acquire 4.5 wooded acres from AK Steel. He said 75,950 square feet of the proposed building would be for the Municipal Court operations and 53,000 square feet would be for detention.
The detention area would have 104 male cells, 36 female cells, 24 special needs/mental health cells. The proposed facility would have one wing dedicated for special needs/mental health inmates. About 56 cells would be available to be contracted out for other cities, counties or federal government. It would also feature a commissary, infirmary, maintenance, sally port, laundry, recreation and program areas.
Palenick said it would cost about $30 million to build the new facility based on estimates from jail construction in Warren County, and there are multiple possible funding sources available.
Council members asked Palenick and Birk for additional information and also wanted input from residents and other community stakeholders.
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