Deceased inmate’s mother addresses county

New jail estimated at $10-15 million

By Dean Wright -

Gallia Commissioner Brent Saunders shows area resident Sherry Russell examples of potential model plans for a new Gallia Jail.

Gallia Commissioner Brent Saunders shows area resident Sherry Russell examples of potential model plans for a new Gallia Jail.

Dean Wright | OVP

GALLIPOLIS — Mother of a deceased Gallia inmate, Sherry Russell, addressed Gallia Commissioners during their regular meeting Thursday at the Gallia Courthouse saying she supported a new jail facility but had questions about the operation of the current one.

The current Gallia Jail rests in the basement of the Gallia Courthouse and has been found to be in noncompliance of dozens of state standards over the past few years. A series of events, including the deaths of two inmates and three escapes from Gallia Sheriff’s Office custody since August, have brought national attention to the corrections facility. An “altercation” was reported by Gallia Sheriff Matt Champlin in the facility Oct. 9 where minor injuries were reported. Medical attention was called but all parties refused treatment.

Inspection reports say that many issues found to be in noncompliance occurred due to the “age and layout” of the facility. Other standards were found in noncompliance due to a need to update corrections policies or concerns with sanitation. State officials with the Ohio Bureau of Adult Detention said “Historically, the jail will remain non-compliant and the Bureau of Adult Detention will act as a resource in bringing the jail up to standard.” A bureau representative also said the state had taken no action in the Gallia Court of Common Pleas to “enjoin compliance with standards.”

“We’re moving along with our meetings for a new facility,” said Commissioner Brent Saunders. “It’s going to be designed to put (non-violent and violent) people in other places.”

Russell said she had several people reach out to her via social media about the jail and stressed that she had repeatedly heard a similar story and concerns about inmates directing violence against each other.

Saunders said he understood jail fighting to be a national problem.

Russell said she was taking interest in the new jail plans.

Russell’s son, David “Tommy” Gibson, 27, of Patriot, and Lacey Wolford, 35, of Bidwell, both died recently in county custody. The sheriff’s office said previously at a press conference on Sept. 29 that Gibson died on Sept. 14 and Wolford died Sept. 23. The first from suicide and the second from overdose, respectively.

In answering questions about the jail, Commissioner David Smith said that while the county owned other land outside of where the new jail is planned to be set, they felt it was less cost prohibitive to build the jail next to the Gallia Courthouse as things such as water lines and other utility infrastructure already existed whereas the county may need to construct and connect such utilities to the jail in other locations.

“In town, we’ve already got access to water, roads and power,” said Smith. “Having the jail next to the courthouse also prevents us from having to have long road trips when transporting prisoners and that can help from a security perspective as well as financial.”

As cited from a previous article printed Sept. 3 in the Gallipolis Daily Tribune, “The county purchased a parking lot from the City of Gallipolis earlier in the year along Second Avenue, next to the Second Avenue Gallia Courthouse parking lot, for $264,000 along with a plot of land from the French Art Colony for $30,000 which holds a small garage. The county also purchased the old law office of Bill Conley next to the old city parking lot for $350,000. Commissioners have heavily discussed utilizing this area, along with part of the Gallia Courthouse parking lot along First Avenue, as the new jail build site. Commissioners also discussed potentially connecting the new facility to the courthouse with a walkway for security measures and to cut down on inmate transportation costs. The target square footage for the new jail facility is over 59,500 square feet utilizing rough estimates from the Gallia Auditor’s webpage mapping software.”

As previously reported in January, Gallia Commissioners raised the county sales tax by a quarter of a percent after a unanimous vote, bringing the overall county sales tax to 7.25 which capped the county’s sales tax potential allotment. The tax increase has brought between $80,000 to $90,000 a month to the general fund since being enacted in April and received from the state in June and has been stated it was going to be used in part to fund the jail’s construction. Commissioners estimate new jail construction to cost between $10 million to $15 million to build. Commissioners hope to break ground next year and have the jail occupied by 2022. Commissioners have said they intend to finance the project either through U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development programs or through the sale of bonds. Further funding options are being considered.

The jail footprint is estimated to be around 20,000 square feet so far with potential for two or more floors. Commissioners have said they would like a minimum of 100 beds in the facility and to design it in such a way as there would be a central control station overseeing a circular or square holding area to minimize staffing requirements.

Smith has said that the commissioners have sought alternate funding routes through the state or in the form of grants and had thus far not seen “any options” for such funding. He said he had wanted to start a new jail three years ago.

“The state continually cuts local government funding and this has put a good amount of pressure on rural areas,” said Smith.

Commissioners have said they anticipate 57 percent of a $9.5 million general fund to go to criminal justice issues. Financial records gathered from the county indicate that of roughly $10.5 million appropriated for 2019 yearly expenses, the sheriff’s office is expected to spend around 40 percent of the total number. Appropriation totals often take grant money into account.

Champlin was available to address questions to reporters briefly before having to attend another meeting but did not stay for the commissioners’ meeting.

“I know that when the state had done the (jail) inspection in December (2018), it recommended no more than 11 inmates at a time,” said Russell to commissioners. “How have we managed to continue to run as many inmates…as we have currently been housed since that time?”

Champlin previously reported during a press conference the jail could house anywhere from 35 to 50 inmates at times.

“I have seen many different numbers of licensed beds or numbers put on that,” said Smith. “You’d have to ask Matt.”

Russell asked if Champlin was going to come to the meeting and was told that he was attending a separate meeting. She also inquired about a broken camera system in the jail prior to her son’s death.

Russell asked commissioners if they knew of any policy changes with the sheriff’s office’s 10-day medical evaluation policy with inmates entering the jail, given recent light on jail events. Smith deferred questions to Champlin as he said it was an operational issue.

“Do I believe they need a new facility, yes,” said Russell to reporters after the meeting. “It’s deplorable, filthy and overcrowded. You still have to effectively manage the facility you have…”

Champlin responded to questions from Ohio Valley Publishing in the form of an email later Thursday evening in response to some of the concerns voiced by Russell.

“Keeping up with the increase of jail population is a challenge for every sheriff in the state of Ohio and I would venture to say the Midwest, if not our nation,” wrote Champlin.

“Franklin County is in the final stages of completing a new facility due to their overcrowding. The state of Ohio has the same overcrowding problems in their penitentiaries. However, they have the luxury of changing legislation to fix their problems. In recent years, lawmakers made those changes so that felonies of the fourth and fifth-degrees will be housed in county jails instead of state (penitentiaries) where they historically were held. Additionally, based on state law, municipal and village police departments who decide to not charge under their ordinances and instead charge arrestees under state code avoid being responsible for their own prisoners,” the email continued.

“Both of these monumental changes have taken place within the last two years, so when it comes to overcrowding our county jails, the state of Ohio has created a lot of our local problems. Pertaining to medical procedures, the state of Ohio sets the guidelines that we follow. Lastly, the camera in question was destroyed a few days prior to the incident when Mr. Gibson took his own life. Inmate Leo Stephens intentionally broke the camera that had just been installed. The damaged camera was reported and a maintenance request was initiated to replace the camera. Due to their cost, we do not have extra cameras just laying around. They have to be ordered and installed by a contractor,” ended Champlin’s message.

Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342.

Gallia Commissioner Brent Saunders shows area resident Sherry Russell examples of potential model plans for a new Gallia Jail. Commissioner Brent Saunders shows area resident Sherry Russell examples of potential model plans for a new Gallia Jail. Dean Wright | OVP
New jail estimated at $10-15 million

By Dean Wright