PAINESVILLE, Ohio — Lake County's Sheriff Frank Leonbruno said now is the time to take a hard look at the resources needed for mass incarceration.
“It’s time for a new jail because our cost of maintaining this jail is rising,” he said.
Overcrowding and aging jails continue to be a problem all across the state, with matters made worse with the ongoing pandemic.
In Lake County, jail records show its population declined last year after the pandemic pushed leaders to make a change.
However, newly released statistics show a dramatic increase in the jail’s population since it opened, almost doubling its Lake County population.
When the Lake County Jail opened in 1990, it was only meant to hold about 350 inmates. Only about 125 Lake County inmates occupied cells when it first opened, with many of the unused cells being rented out to other agencies such as the U.S. Marshal’s Office and other nearby agencies.
Leonbruno said those rented cells helped pay for the cost of the jail. Nowadays, he said the jail has almost no room for outside inmates, and even needed to convert some single cells into bunk bed areas.
Right now, thanks to the pandemic, he said it currently houses 380 inmates, in addition to its aging infrastructure.
“The boilers need replacing, [so does] the heating,” he said. “All the inner piping needs replaced, all the window units [too]. Water has got between the walls and the bricks and it’s expanding and it’s pushing the bricks off the building.”
The jail has also seen a 200% increase in its female population compared to when it opened.
Leonbruno detailed how a new jail could hold more space for mental health and alcohol treatment, in addition to virtual courtrooms, which would eliminate the need for inmate transports to court hearings.
“New jails are being designed with larger housing units that are day rooms where you can house more people using the same amount of staff,” Leonbruno added.
News 5 spoke with the Lake County Board of Commissioners President John Hamercheck, who said they’re always having ongoing conversations about all their facilities.
Hamercheck said they’re continuing to look for ways to secure state or federal funding for either renovating the jail with an addition or building a new one entirely.
Leonburno estimated it could cost between $80-90 million to build a new jail that could house 520 beds.