“Jails are a big problem,” Chair of the Ohio House Finance Committee Representative Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) said.
House Bill 2, which passed the House on Wednesday, allocates nearly $2 billion to projects and funds across the state. $250 million of those dollars are slated to go to local jail funds.
“We have jails that are 40, 50, 60 years old in Ohio,” Speaker of the Ohio House Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) said. “They’re dangerous for not only the corrections officers, obviously, but the inmates. We want to have a safe place for people to work and we want to make sure those buildings are taken care of.”
Stephens said this is an important fund to ensure safety across the state. He said for many years, it was state policy to “require county jails to House more prisoners,” with little to no funding from the state.
“A jail is open 365, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day,” he said. “And the guests aren’t always glad to be there, so they don’t necessarily treat the property terribly well.”
Edwards said some rural counties have jails two or three hours away, at best, creating “a lot of county expenditures to transport people.”
“It’s not just the expense to the county,” he said. “You’re taking public safety out of those counties because you’ve now got a sheriff deputy transporting people two or three hours away.”
Stephens said the $250 million for the projects are divided into two pots: some for smaller counties, and other money for larger counties.
“So that some of the larger counties who can get all of the architecture and where they’re building, it is more of a financing arm,” Stephens said. “Whereas for the smaller counties, is it for just assistance and getting an architect and doing some of those professional services.”
The money for the local jails is made up of bonded money, which is essentially debt to the state, that money is paid back overtime, partly, and ultimately through tax dollars.
The bill now faces the Senate, but Edwards said the House is urging quick movement so projects can start promptly.
“We want to get that out now and try to push it so that we can get projects and shovels in the ground this summer,” he said.
John Fortney, spokesperson for the Senate president, said there needs to be further discussion and nothing is set in stone: “When you’re talking about that much money, you have to scrutinize and evaluate the legislation.”