By Melanie Yingst
MIAMI COUNTY —More than 800 hours of labor has gone in to bringing Miami County Sheriff’s Office downtown jail from areas being condemned by health officials to operating up to code today.
This week, Miami County maintenance workers put the final coat of paint on the last block of jail cells to bring the downtown facility up to par with health and safety requirements.
On Wednesday, Miami County Sheriff’s Office jail director Lt. Dave Norman shared how the downtown jail maintained its population amidst repairs.
“The third floor is complete and the second floor is almost completed, but it was a rough road for us being down 14 beds,” Norman said. “They (maintenance workers) couldn’t get ahead and we couldn’t get ahead, but doing it this way (closing one cell block at a time) works to get it all fixed right.”
Norman said the ability to shut down blocks of cells at a time has made it easier for maintenance to work on each area and focus on all the repairs.
“There were a lot of band-aids put on things over the years,” Norman said of former maintenance requests not being fulfilled in years past. “The county maintenance department had two or three guys a week in here repairing all the stuff that needed fixed and they are almost done.”
“We are finally at a place where we are complying with standards and getting stuff done that has needed to be done,” he said. “We closed pods and rotated the inmates around so repairs could be made.”
The last block of cell repairs on the second floor was getting a fresh coat of paint by Miami County maintenance department workers on Wednesday.
According to Chris Johnson, Miami County’s maintenance director since October 2012, county maintenance employees have poured 800 man hours in to repairing most of the downtown jail facility from cell blocks to the sheriff’s administrative offices.
“We knocked out each cell one by one,” Johnson said. “It’s been a long couple months, but it looks like everything turned out pretty well.”
On Sept. 19, 2013, the Miami County Health Department Health Commissioner Chris Cook notified jail officials three areas of the jail, including one cell block which held six inmates and two holding cells, were considered not fit to house inmates.
Of the violations, health department officials found no hot water, several sinks which weren’t working, showers that were broken, plus damage to floors and plumbing. During the inspection, mold also was found in the ventilation system.
Norman said many of the stainless steel sink/toilet combinations were leaking and just the general wear and tear of housing inmates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year were causing problems to escalate.
Johnson said he met with sheriff officials to go over the work that needed to be completed prior to the overhaul. Johnson said each cell block underwent repairs for damaged concrete, fixtures, sink/toilets and showers, steel pieces on the walls. Johnson also said all cells were sanitized as well as the facility’s ventilation system was repaired during the maintenance sweep.
“Obviously some of the repair work goes back several years,” Johnson said.
Johnson also said he has implemented a new electronic maintenance request system for work orders to be immediately received by personnel and not become “lost in the shuffle.”
Johnson said the health department was pleased with its progress and was released from its condemnation order several weeks ago.
Johnson said a monthly maintenance schedule will keep small problems from turning in to major ones.
“We’ll be doing monthly checks on each building to make sure nothing gets overlooked in the future,” he said.
Johnson also added as part of the new county’s monthly maintenance program, the goal is to reveal small programs from going unnoticed and growing in to an even bigger issue in the future.
Much of the infrastructure, especially plumbing, still needs updated at the downtown jail facility, according to Norman. Norman said estimates could be as high as $500,000 to completely renovate the deteriorating plumbing the jail would need in the near future.
Johnson said an architect been secured to assess the jail’s plumbing issues.
“We’re looking at updating infrastructure in the near future,” Johnson said.
The downtown jail opened in 1972 and was a state of the art facility at the time. To demonstrate how much has changed in Ohio state jail codes, the cell block was designed to hold up to 14 inmates at one time in 1972.
Today’s jail code standards for the same cell block from 1972 now is recommended to hold only seven inmates.
Norman said the downtown jail currently is allowed to only hold 43 inmates in its downtown facility due to its square footage restrictions and other inmate rights laws.
“If we exceed 43, we are basically a liability,” Norman said. “Sheriff (Charles) Cox has been working extensively on the issue not only for our staff, but for whole county.”
The incarceration facility houses all minimum/medium male offenders at the facility located on County Road 25-A, outside the city limits.
The downtown jail houses the county’s most violent/maximum security offenders as well as its ever increasing women population.
The IF opened up one pod last summer to ease the downtown jail’s population which exceeded state jail minimum standards. Each IF pod can house 60 inmates per pod. The IF was closed for several years due to county-wide budget cuts.
Next week, the incarceration facility plans to open its second pod which can hold up to 60 more minimum/medium male offenders, Norman said.
Norman said another issue the jail staff is facing is an overwhelming increase in women inmates.
“We are averaging 20 women at a time,”said Norman of the jail’s female population. “The fastest rising population in our jail are females.”
Norman said it was almost unheard more than thirty years ago when a female was incarcerated.
“It was almost unheard of a woman going to jail in those days,” Norman said. “Now they are doing the same type of crimes that men are.”
Norman shared how recently a state jail consultant predicted Miami County may need 340-350 beds in its future based on trends in crime and current population. Today, the downtown jail houses 43 inmates and the IF can hold up to 240 inmates with all four pods open.
“We are getting more and more (criminals) coming north to Miami County,” Norman said.
Melanie Yingst can be reached at (937) 440-5254 or via Twitter @Troydailynews