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By JIM MAURER
Transporting Hancock County prisoners has become more challenging under the current coronavirus threat for Lt. Ryan Kidwell, jail administrator for the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office.
The jail has a capacity of 98 prisoners, but usually the sheriff’s office has more than 100 prisoners. In recent years, the sheriff’s office has taken the additional prisoners to jails in Putnam, Wood and Van Wert counties, Kidwell said.
But Wednesday he said the sheriff’s office was notified recently that the other county jails won’t accept any new prisoners.
They are “closing their doors to taking any new prisoners,” Kidwell said, but out-of-county prisoners currently housed in those jails can remain. They can be picked up and returned after a hearing, for instance, he said, but can’t be removed for several days without losing their spot in jail.
Hancock County hasn’t been told to reduce the jail population yet, Kidwell said, but sheriff’s office personnel are in contact with local courts, the state health department and state adult detention personnel about safety issues.
The judges are cognizant of the jail population and are being mindful of who is sentenced to the local jail.
The jail had an average daily population of 118 inmates during the week of March 8 and 105 inmates during the week of March 15, Kidwell said, which includes inmates being held in out-of-county jails.
Jail operations also are being impacted by the ongoing replacement of jail cell doors. Cellblocks are being emptied one at a time for replacement of the doors. The work was expected to be done by early April, but has been slowed and will now take until mid- to late-April, he said.
Last August, the commissioners awarded a $560,700 contract to Mel Lanzer Co., Napoleon, to replace 27 jail cell doors.
Adding an estimated 100-150 beds to the jail is being considered by the Hancock County commissioners, who are waiting a justice system study by M.J. Martin Co., a Lincoln-Nebraska based consulting firm. The study is expected to be presented to the commissioners this spring.
A larger jail would end the practice of sending overflow inmates to area jails. The arrangement has been ongoing for years. In recent years, the expense has been more than $500,000 annually.