Butler County sheriff seeking $6.6 million to improve medical facilities

7 things to know about the Butler County Jail

The Butler County Sheriff’s Office has applied for a $6.6 million state grant to expand the jail medical pod to 36 beds after feeling facilities were inadequate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state’s two-year capital budget included $50 million for construction of or renovations to county jail facilities, and Sheriff Richard Jones received county commissioner approval this week to go for $6.6 million.

The jail has four medical beds, and during the height of the pandemic infected inmates were moved to the minimum security Resolutions facility for social distancing. Sheriff’s Office Chief Anthony Dwyer told the Journal-News even before the pandemic they realized their medical facilities have been inadequate from the start when the jail was built about 20 years ago.

The majority of the jail population is “brittle” with people who are drug or alcohol addicted or both — requiring close monitoring and care during detoxification — pregnant women and those suffering from mental health issues.

“Almost everybody that comes here has some co-morbidity and multiple medical issues, unfortunately the people we see do not seek regular healthcare until they’re incarcerated and then we have to treat them,” Dwyer said. “They’ll let serious things go until they get locked up. I’ve literally seen people come with broken bones that they knew were broke.”

Before approving the grant application the commissioners had some questions. Commissioner Don Dixon wanted to know if there is a local match, if the sheriff had provided information about how much it would cost to operate the addition if the grant is approved and if they can decline the grant if operational costs are exorbitant.

“If we can get it in some form or fashion of a grant rather than the general fund that’s all well and good,” Dixon told the Journal-News later. “But let’s not forget it takes extra money to run that, there’s going to be additional costs and expenses and we need to understand what that is.”

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Commissioner T.C. Rogers is also concerned about the long-term investment.

“This was just for the application,” Rogers said. “He can have the application and then for us to accept the grant, we need some more clear information on how do you run it in the long-run.”

There is no matching requirement and the commissioners would not be required to accept the money. Dwyer told the Journal-News they would need to hire more staff to handle expanded space, but he noted the addition of 36 beds doesn’t mean additional inmates, it is just where they are housed within the 900-bed facility.

“The way the plan is designed it could require one extra corrections position, that’s all. Any 24-hour position is generally looked at as 5 FTEs but we don’t actually believe we would need five based on our operation,” Dwyer said. “But we would probably need to hire some staff to cover the additional bed staff and the way it’s housed. But there shouldn’t be any additional medical staff or anything like that, what we already have in place should be sufficient.”

Dwyer said the grant isn’t guaranteed, it is a very competitive process.

“This money is being sought after by a lot (of counties statewide) so I don’t know that we have great expectations of being successful,” Dwyer said.

John Leutz, assistant director of the County Commissioners Association of Ohio, said his agency and the Buckeye State Sheriffs Association spent two or three years creating a funding proposal and documenting the need for jail facilities. The bottom line was $1.3 billion to solve all the various issues.

The grant application deadline was Wednesday and requested amounts were not yet available.

If the grant is declined Dwyer said he hopes the commissioners will consider the project along with the other requests countywide for the $75 million they were awarded in federal American Rescue Plan funds. The sheriff has already requested $1.8 million from that pot of money to renovate the dispatch center and some other projects.

The commissioners haven’t made any decisions or even discussed the ARP requests publicly yet but they have said they are willing to listen to everyone.