The Miami County commissioners will work on reaching an agreement with Shelby County to house some of the county’s excess female prisoners.

An update meeting on the county jail issues and ongoing efforts to find short- and longer-term solutions to jail bed needs was held between commissioners and Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Dave Duchak on Feb. 27.

Commissioner Richard Cultice said Shelby County commissioners indicated an interest in working with the county on possibly renting up to 25 beds for female prisoners. A price of $55 per day per prisoner was mentioned though commissioners said the numbers would need further discussion.

The number of female prisoners is on the increase, primarily due to heroin and stealing to support habits, Sheriff Charles Cox told commissioners at an earlier meeting Feb. 5.

That growth has come at a time when Cox was reducing the number of prisoners at the county’s maximum security jail in downtown Troy. He is trying to keep the population at 43 prisoners (both men and women) to comply with what he’s been told by state jail officials is the acceptable capacity.

The downtown jail has been averaging 30 male maximum security prisoners daily, leaving just a few spaces for females.

The county also has the minimum security Incarceration Facility between Troy and Piqua. Built in the late 1990s to hold 240 prisoners, it now has two of four 60-person pods open after being closed for three years because of budget cuts. Males are being held at the IF with around the IF averaging around 70 prisoners a day.

Opening a third 60-person pod to house local female prisoners qualifying for minimum security along with possibly renting female beds to other counties also has been being explored.

Duchak said jail administrators have been contacting other counties and the federal marshals service about interest in renting beds for males and females. There have been no immediate takers although the marshals’ service said it would be interested in contract talks in the future.

Before a third pod could be opened, the sheriff’s office would need to hire eight more correction officers, a process Duchak said would take six months at a minimum. Three existing correction officer positions are opening, meaning 11 hires would be needed.

Finding correction officers is difficult, Duchak said. “You would think with the economy you’d have more (candidates) … It just isn’t so,” he said.

Another correction officer test is scheduled for April. Candidates then are screened and those selected go through 30-days training.

Commission President John “Bud” O’Brien said he was apprehensive about opening a third pod. “It doesn’t seem like we have bed guarantees unless something changes quickly,” he said. “I don’t particularly like the ‘build it and they will come’ route.”

In addition, he said, the county faces a year of tight finances and the payroll cost of the additional correction officers would be more than $420,000.

The opening of the third pod for females should remain under exploration but for now the option of renting beds from Shelby County appears to be the most logical option, Cultice said.

For a longer term jail solution, Cox for the past two years has advocated closing the downtown jail, which was built in the 1970s, and consolidating all jail operations at the IF. A maximum security pod would have to be added at the IF to accommodate those prisoners.