Huron Co. jail renting cells

NORWALK Overcrowding is a common problem at jails across the state. But their problem
Cory Frolik
May 24, 2010

NORWALK

Overcrowding is a common problem at jails across the state.

But their problem could be the Huron County jail's solution to budget woes.

Sheriff Dane Howard decided this year to rent out bed space at the jail to house inmates from jurisdictions whose jails are running out of room.

The Huron County jail has135 beds, of which only about 102 are usually filled, Howard said.

Each one of the vacancies is an opportunity for the jail to make money.

Because of small overhead costs associated with housing the out-of-town inmates, renting bed space could rake in as much as $261,000 per year in profit.

"Fifty-eight dollars (a day per prisoner) is the standard contract rate. The profit margin is about $51," said Huron County Sheriff's Capt. Ted Patrick.

The Huron County Commissioners are behind the program and signed contracts with Shaker Heights, Lakewood and Sheffield to house their inmates.

Added to the list this week was a contract with Parma Heights.

Commissioners said theprogram is really paying off.

Right now, beds are rented out to 14 inmates from other areas.  Combined with the local inmate population, there are 112 occupied beds at the jail.

And there's still room for more.

The bed leasing program took a while to get on its feet, meaning reaching revenue projections might be tricky. Howard had said he'd like to fill on average 20 beds with imported inmates, but it took several months to build up to 14.

Reaching 20 may still take a little while, county officials said.

There is no magic number, but Patrick said generally speaking it would be nice to have 15 to 20 beds filled. Of course, the jail is obligated first and foremost to incarcerate individuals sentenced there by local courts.

Filling the jail to maximum capacity is essentially out of the question because there must be space for accepting people convicted of crimes locally, officials said.

But the $261,000 goal is not arbitrary. It was identified as the amount of revenue necessary to keep the current level of staffing at the jail.

Failing that goal could lead to layoffs and other budget cuts.

Five people at the jail have already been laid off in addition to one dispatcher.

It's unclear whether the bed leasing program will make enough money in its first year to preempt cuts.

But the program has been a success and is steadily growing, Patrick said.

Seeing a financial opportunity, officials said Howard seized it, which is keeping the jail running smoothly.