Warren County’s new $57M jail already causing changes, like moving the aptly named Justice Drive

Justice Drive, the main road through the Warren County government complex and past Donovan Elementary School, is expected to close the week of May 27 for a $1 million road project.

The road is being moved slightly south to make room for the new Warren County Jail and Sheriff’s Office. It is to reopen in time for school to begin late in the summer.

While gearing up for the jail construction kick-off, scheduled for July 15, county and local officials and consultants are meeting about what to do with the part of the current jail not demolished or expanded into by the Warren County Courts.

“I’m very interested in them continuing to use that facility,” Sheriff Larry Sims said Friday.

On Thursday, the planning group is scheduled to meet with TASC Inc. of Illinois, specialists in alternative approaches to handling people in the criminal justice system due to drug or mental-health problems, or both.

RELATED: After delay, Warren County hires jail architect

The TASC model (originally “Treatment Alternatives to Street Crime”) came about in 1972 with pilot programs funded by the federal government, which sought a response “to increasing numbers of heroin-addicted individuals entering criminal courts,” according to the group’s web site.

There was a TASC office in Springboro.

“Building on the original model, currently there are numerous entities across the United States called TASC. These programs operate independently of one another,” according to the group’s web site.

The Illinois-based consultant, formed in 1976, will come to Lebanon at no cost to the county, through the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance, according to Martin Russell, deputy county administrator.

Russell said the county secured the technical assistance through a relationship begun with the federal bureau when the county applied for a $800,000 grant, later awarded, to study first-responder relationships and processes when children are involved in drug-overdose calls.

Next week’s planning group session will involve exercises designed to help the county map out how best to set up a system to “intercept” people likely to benefit from programs outside the regular jail, Sims and Russell said.

The new jail is to be completed in roughly 22 months by April 2021. Ideally part of the existing jail would then be modified for use in an interceptor program.

Sims said this would fill a void in the county system for in-patient mental health or drug treatment.

Currently the county competes with others in the region for available in-patient treatment.

“In our region, everyone’s fighting for those beds,” Sims said.

While the interceptor is expected to relieve crowding at the jail, Sims said this would probably be more than offset by an influx of new inmates sent to jail by judges who had been holding off due to the lack of jail space.

Within six months, Sims predicted the inmate population would stabilize at about 350 inmates, leaving room in the 468-bed facility in the short term. The facility is designed to last at least for several decades.

Population growth that left Warren County as Ohio’s 10th largest and changes in state law in place and being debated in Columbus, could result in the filling of the additional beds sooner than projected, Sims said.

The new jail will also be designed for up to four more 150-bed pods. The commissioners will be queried about smaller expansions of 10 to 20 beds “at today’s prices,” Sims said.

At this point, the jail is expected to cost $57 million, including about $1 million for the road move.

Road construction is to begin once school ends on May 23.

During road construction, Justice Drive, the road leading into the government complex off Cook Road and the Ohio 48 bypass, will be closed. The school and county buildings will be accessible off an entrance on East Avenue, Sims said.

The new road will run close to a line of pine trees buffering the school property.

“They’re planning to have that completed by the time school starts again,” Sims told Lebanon City Council last week.

Todd Yohey, superintendent of Lebanon City Schools, said district staff met with county and sheriff’s office representatives on the concept plan for the jail, a short walk closer to the school than the existing facility.

“The orientation of the new facility will provide no or very little direct line of sight to the jail from Donovan, especially the playground area. We are happy to know that we will have a law enforcement agency next door to our school building. Our hope is that it serves as a deterrent to anyone with bad intentions,” Yohey said in an email response to questions about the project.

About the Author