July 31, 2014

Elyria
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Lorain lockup almost ready to reopen cells

Officials in Lorain plan to reopen the city jail between mid-December and New Year`s Day. The city has spent $350,000 over the past three months to renovate the old jail on the third floor of the police station on West Erie Avenue, dividing it into five blocks of seven cells each and 34 beds.

There is also a brand-new detoxification cell, a community holding chamber, a room where attorneys can meet with the accused and a laundry facility.

Lorain police Capt. William Engle explained during a tour of the new jail last week that police will be allowed to hold prisoners there for a maximum of 12 days.

Original plans for a long-stay jail were rejected because it would have been far too expensive to run – as much as $1.5 million per year, Engle said.

Under that plan, the state would have required an on-site doctor or nurse, an outdoor recreation area for prisoners, dental and psychological care, continuing education for inmates and drug and alcohol counseling.

When the new jail opens, it will cost $541,558 a year to run, Engle said, but prisoner fines are expected to generate $129,644 a year.

Lorain Municipal Court judges also have agreed to increase fees for each case by $5, which will raise about $86,000 each year – enough to pay the salaries of two correction officers.
The city will make another $10,000 annually from pay phones that the prisoners can use, Engle said.
In addition, a levy passed in 1995 will raise another $83,000 a year for corrections salaries, he said.

Those factors combine to reduce the operating budget to $232,914 a year, or about 15 percent of the estimated cost of the original plans, he said.

The  jail will be completely self-contained – meaning inmates will be in a secure area from the time they enter until the time they are transferred or released.

That`s a big deal, because the jail used to be spread across two floors, he said.

Criminals were often taken to their cells through the same unsecured doors used by employees. Now the risk of escape or injury to other workers will be reduced.

The booking station and main security desk has been moved from the first to third floor, which means that one correctional officer will be able to run the entire facility on any given shift.

Previously, two corrections officers were necessary at all times. Engle said the reduction in manpower made possible by the new layout will mean a $241,408 per year operating savings. The jail also will have equipment for video visitation and video arraignment, which will save even more money because inmates will not have to be driven to court.

Ralph Cantu, construction supervisor for the county community development department, said electricians finished work at the jail Thursday.

That leaves just some rough touches and the installation of seven shower units – one for each cell block – before state inspectors can put the stamp of approval on the facility, he said.

Inspectors visit the work site every two weeks and have been overwhelmingly positive about the jail, Engle said.

“The state can`t believe we did it for the price we did it in. They don`t know how we made the changes from our old jail until now to modernize it,” he said.

Construction should be complete by Dec. 1, Cantu said. The exact date that inspectors will allow the jail to open is uncertain, but should be no later than Jan. 1, he said.

Six corrections officers will be hired to man the jail in shifts. Engle said he is interviewing and doing background checks on final candidates for the jobs.

Engle and Cantu said they are aiming to open bids on a second phase of reconstruction at the police station by Jan. 1.

They started with a $1.6 million construction budget and have $700,000 left for renovations to the police station communications center and $550,000 for work on the first floor, which includes an overhaul to the patrol operations room, lunch room and entryway, Engle said.

A deal also has been finalized to build a small dining area and Georgio`s Oven Fresh Pizza kiosk in the lobby the station shares with City Hall, Cantu said. The city has granted a $15,000 loan to the pizzeria for construction, equipment and start-up costs.

The completion of the long-awaited jail project may just help the crime situation in Lorain, as well as free up a few beds at the overcrowded county jail.

There have been times when local police couldn`t arrest criminals simply because there was no room in the county jail to hold them.

“People wouldn`t listen to the officers because they knew we couldn`t take them to jail,” Engle said.

Since the city jail closed in 2004, lawbreakers from Lorain have been taken to the county jail on Murray Ridge Road in Elyria Township.

Contact Jason Hawk at 653-6264 or jhawk@chroniclet.com.