BY THE NUMBERS
As of Dec. 1, there were 278 prisoners housed in the Butler County Jail through various contracts. A breakdown of prisoners in the Butler County Jail:
Butler County: 586
U.S. Marshals: 127
Brown County: 76
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE): 66
Gallia County: 3
Lawrence County: 2
Ohio Bureau of Prisons: 2
Source: Butler County Sheriff’s Office
If you commit a crime in Butler County, you are likely going to jail at least until you make bond. But that is not the case in some Ohio counties that struggle to house even those charged with felonies.
Why? Because in a time when jail beds are scarce for some, the Butler County Jail and its “CEO,” Sheriff Richard Jones, have plenty of space for local inmates and out-of-county prisoners, too, thanks to a facility that was built “large” in 2002 with a plan for the future, according to Jones.
The Hanover Street location in Hamilton, which opened in 2002, has 848 beds and a Second Street building can house 100 more. But on an average day, only 500 of those beds are filled by local inmates. That means the marketing plan for the jail developed in 2010 is working, officials say.
A worn binder labeled “project jail” outlines the strategy Jones’ staff undertook to show police agencies in southwestern Ohio their product. What resulted was about 30 contracts from outside police agencies and lots of cash in the sheriff department’s coffers. The largest contracts are for ICE and federal prisoners, which can average nearly 200 a day.
“We went out to chiefs of police meetings and visited offices and told them about our product,” said Maj. Mike Craft, referring to the county’s jail facilities.
Last month, Brown County Adult Detention Center was forced to close its entire jail facility due to problems with the locking devices on cell doors. Butler County jail doors swung open for 93 prisoners, which will mean an extra $100,000 or more for the county this year.
Brown County had a contract in place with Butler County, but only housed a few prisoners here at a time. They renegotiated a new contract and got a better rate — $60 a prisoner per day — if the number of prisoners daily stays at 50 or above.
The going rate for contract prisoners is $70 a day and is negotiated from there depending on the need.
“Depending on the number, duration of contract and length of stay, you get a better rate,” Craft said.
The federal government, which brings in the largest amount of contract prisoners, pays $53 per day per prisoner.
Jones said the ability to be flexible in the jail “business” is what allows him to offset his budget — which was proposed at $33 million for 2016 — with revenue from contract prisoners. Jones, who was employed at Lebanon Correctional Institution before coming to Butler County as a chief deputy, said he does have an expertise in jail operations.
“I have been in the jail business all my life,” Jones said, noting he views himself as the CEO of the sheriff’s office. He said he looks at his jail as a business, and making money on contract prisoners “pays for our local prisoners.”
Jones was behind a push during the construction of the new jail to outfit the entire facility, even though it was too large. Other county officials wanted to build a shell and mothball it until it was needed.
“Better to have too much than not enough,” Jones said of the space, adding he believed even then there was money to be made housing outside prisoners.
With the aid of a $10 million state grant, Jones was able to build the entire facility at one time. And at times, portions of it has been empty due to lost contracts.
The Butler County Jail is projected to bring in about $5 million this year, but it has brought in as much as $7 million when outside contracts were more robust.
Deputy Chief Anthony Dwyer said the key to making contacts cost effective is to know the threshold for opening jail pods and closing them as well as staffing with part-time corrections officers, overtime deputies, or having to hire new personnel. He said there is a tipping point that does not make it cost effective and has to be constantly managed.
“The contracts bring in revenue. If you have the space and can manage the cost, why not use it? It helps other communities,” Dwyer said.
Butler County Commissioner Don Dixon was not in office when the jail was built, but he is of the opinion it was constructed too large to begin with.
“But it is here now and there’s no reason not to utilize it,” Dixon said, adding it is a positive that the jail was completely finished at yesterday’s rates rather than the higher construction prices today.
“I am comfortable with leasing or providing space to outside agencies,” Dixon said. “It saves tax dollars in the long run.”
Fairfield is one municipality paying for prisoner housing.
Chief Mike Dickey said Fairfield officers charge most suspects under city ordinances, thus they have to pay to house prisoners at the jail. But, Fairfield also receives fines collected from court cases that they would not get if charges were filed under state statute.
Dickey said the bottom line is the sheriff runs a good jail and “I couldn’t afford to do it any cheaper.”