New Warren County Jail/Sheriff’s Office–Contributed by Warren County Sheriﬀ Larry Sims
n June of 2019, work began to close part of Justice Drive, Lebanon, inside our Warren County government complex. During the summer, Memorial Drive was extended to reconnect at Cook Rd. The purpose of this road construction was to allow for the construction of the new Warren County Jail and Sheriff’s Ofﬁce. The construction had become necessary to accommodate the years of overcrowding in our existing jail. In my visits throughout the county, I am often asked why our jail population has grown so much over the years. In my experience, there are a number of factors that inﬂuence an increase in jail population. One of those factors is simply growth of our community. Many of you have experienced the signiﬁcant growth of our county over the last 20-plus years. This population growth has put us currently at approximately 230,000 residents. Other factors include changes in state sentencing guidelines that require communities to deal with offenders locally instead of sending them to prison. When I ﬁrst became Sheriff in January 2009, the number of jail beds was 197 and constantly over capacity. The last expansion of our existing jail was 1996. Warren County leadership had spent a lot time exploring the most cost-effective ways of dealing with our population. In 2008, our county made a concerted effort to expand our probation staff and allow for more low-level nonviolent offenders to be released on electronic monitoring. Before adding more expensive jail space, this was absolutely the right thing to do. Without creating any additional risk to our community, it allowed for some to be out of jail with the intent of being more productive. Even with the expansion of the alternatives to incarceration, we still had to rent jail bed space from the Butler County Sheriff’s Ofﬁce. Our county was spending approximately $1.2 million dollars a year to house our overﬂow of offenders. In July 2011, we added 83 additional beds in our existing jail bringing our capacity to 280. Our excellent staff had devised and submitted this plan and was approved by the State of Ohio. While there was an expense to this, we were able to bring all of our inmates back from Butler County. This has saved our county that $1.2 million spent yearly since then. Since this expansion, our population has still steadily grown and we have been at or over capacity for the last few years. This has caused us to juggle bed space to the point we have been releasing inmates early for nonviolent lower-level offenses to allow room for those committing more serious crimes. We could not accomplish this without the full cooperation of all of our Warren County Judges. This, however, has led to much frustration and most of the jails in the State of Ohio are facing these same issues. As discussions with our Warren County leadership continued, early steps were taken to identify our current and future jail space needs. All alternative options had been thoroughly
14 CenterPoint Fall 2019
vetted. Once we decided a new jail was necessary for the safety and security of our community, our county leaders had to secure a funding mechanism as well as identify those professional ﬁrms to build the facility. After much consternation, Warren County Commissioners voted to increase our sales tax an additional .25% for a ﬁveyear time frame. This began January 2018 and sunsets December 2022. The additional revenue will generate the necessary funds to pay for the facility. This was necessary to not negatively impact other county general fund needs.
Architectural ﬁrms Wachtel & McAnally, Granger, and Megen Construction were selected and have been working diligently with our county team. At the time of preparing this article, ofﬁcial ground breaking for the new facility had been set for July 2019. The bed capacity of the new jail is planned at 468. In addition, the plans provide for future expansion. Four additional pods, each with 150 beds, could be built if necessary as future needs for the facility change. The support services in the new jail are being designed to allow for the additional 600 beds in the future if and when it is necessary. The estimated construction time is 22 months. We hope to be operating the new facility in the spring of 2021. Lastly, during this process, I have been asked about the use of our current facility once we move. The Sheriff’s administrative ofﬁces currently share the building with County Court. The vacated ofﬁces will become available to the Court staff. With respect to the jail, we have been meeting regularly with our mental health and drug treatment service providers in hopes of determining if it would be a good ﬁt for an expansion of their services. The cost of this proposed facility, including road construction, is at approximately $57 million. I, like you, would rather not have to build a jail. Unfortunately, it is a necessary part of maintaining the safe community we all desire to live in.