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Officials: Belmont County Jail is over capacity

Overcrowding at the Belmont County Jail has been an issue for a few years, and one that county commissioners and the sheriff's department are trying their best to fix.

Overcrowding at the Belmont County Jail has been an issue for a few years, and one that county commissioners and the sheriff's department are trying their best to fix.

"Do you want chaos or do you want a peaceful society? It's either one or the other,” said Belmont County Sheriff Dave Lucas. “We're at this volume,. The only way to take care of it is we got to put them someplace.”

As of Monday, the jail had 206 inmates on the books: 150 males and 56 females. Of those inmates, 177 are being housed at the facility while 20 were transported to Jefferson County and nine were under mental health watch.

Right now, the jail only has 144 beds, which means there are 33 more prisoners than beds.

"We moved into this place in (1996), in 2008, it went from 88 to 144,” Lucas said. “That showed it wasn't built big enough then. Now, we're at 144 and we've outgrown that in five years.”

There's a few factors for that population boom. The amount of females has caused them to switch one housing facility from men to just women.

The other issue is dealing with mental health patients. Those patients have to be housed in either Athens or Massillon, which means officers need to drive long round trips to bring them back to Belmont County for court dates.

Between the transfers and the large numbers, it's stretching the department thin.

"At this rate, if this continues, this is probably not something that is sustainable for the county and we need to look at some other options,” said Commission President J.P. Dutton.

In fact, this weekend alone, 32 new inmates were brought in. And while it's causing a very crowded jail, Dutton said it means the officers throughout the county are doing something right.

"We really appreciate all the work they do on a daily basis to make sure we're safe,” he said,

While Lucas said he and county commissioners have discussed options like a new jail, there currently are no plans and any down the road would be expensive.

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