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WASTE WATCH: Jail Overhaul Outrage
LANCASTER, Ohio (Brooks Jarosz) -- Millions upon millions of dollars is being spent to improve, rebuild or deal with overcrowding issues at Ohio jails. In Fairfield County, the choice was made amid controversy and years of inaction.
The 2012, statewide evaluation of Ohio's 350 jails exposes repeated problems. More than half of jails are facing overcrowding, not nearly enough staff and security risks.
ABC 6 Investigators spoke with people in Fairfield County, where another inmate had escaped within 48 hours after leaving the old jail.
"We've had them hiding in our garages in our neighborhood after their escapes," Lancaster City Councilman Randy Groff said. "You know, we've had numerous escapes from the jail up here."
There's no debate; the main Fairfield County jail is unsafe, old and overcrowded.
"We have a facility that's deteriorated," Sheriff Dave Phalen said.
"Enough yappin is enough yappin," County Commissioner Steve Davis said. "It's time to do our job and solve a problem, even if some people want to criticize us for doing that."
Commissioners and an appointed safety committee chose to build a new jail downtown which has caused some controversy.
"One of my concerns is safety of the community," Groff said. "I don't think its a good financial decision."
At least six schools will be within one mile of the place where 400 inmates could be housed. It's closer to the courts and near the old jail. Groff lives just down the street from where it's going to be built.
Records show it's going to cost millions more to build the jail downtown, rather than at Liberty Center several miles away.
"This is what was planned for the jail a number of years ago," Groff said. "What else are you going to do with this land?"
Liberty Center is much more industrial and rural, making it more suitable in Groff's mind. However, even though it will cost at least $2 million to build near downtown, commissioners argue it's a long-term investment.
"We didn't envision a future for that block unless it's us," Davis said. "The block's already rotting -- the gas station doesn't even sell gas. The furniture store is having trouble selling furniture."
Bob Hedges, who lives near that block, is concerned about a different issue. The pre-design calls for digging deep for foundational support. Hedges is a hydrogeologist and fears water contamination for thousands.
"If it was catastrophic it could amount to doubling their rates," Hedges said. "It could also result in water shortages."
"We don't anticipate that problem," Davis said.
Despite environmental concerns, safety and a $30 million price tag, commissioners think its location boasts efficiency, convenience and protection long-term.
"We'll be much better off solving this problem with a safer jail -- located right where a jail is currently located," Davis said.
"I don't think it's a good decision for the community," Groff said.
It's now a matter of due diligence to make sure your money, health and safety is in focus.
The sheriff says the jail is still three years away from being completed.