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09/24/2017

Architect to meet with sheriff on new jail design
Architect to meet with sheriff on new jail design
 
  • Facility designed to hold 86  now serving 128 daily average

jail-HandsOnJailBars.jpg

Article contributed by The Journal Record

By TRACY ESTES
News Editor
 
HAMILTON - An architect has been invited by officials at the Marion County Sheriff’s Department to conduct a tour at the Marion County Jail with recommendations on the type facility needed to replace the current structure.
 
Marion County Sheriff Kevin Williams has confirmed such contact has been made with the architect expected to visit the jail soon.
 
“I am asking the architect to take our numbers from the last five years and design the new facility to meet those needs and plan for the future,’’ said Williams in an interview with the Journal Record.
 
“We are bursting at the seams now and are holding a much larger number of inmates than this facility was designed to hold. We must find a way to do something.’’
 
The sheriff said the jail is now equipped to sleep up to 86 inmates at any given time, but said the daily average has now swollen to about 128.
 
Within the past two months, Williams said there was a day when the jail was asked to house 143 inmates.
 
“When the jail was opened in 1979, it was designed to hold in the 60s,’’ Williams said.
“Changes were made by a previous sheriff to take in a bit of office space to increase the capacity to 86. But there is no more room to make changes.’’
 
Originally, the structure was designed to hold one bed per cell. Even before Williams was elected to office more than a decade ago, changes had been made to place two bunks in the same cell.
 
This move increased the number of inmates held at the jail, but the change is no longer a long-term solution. Williams said there are many times when a segment of inmates are required to sleep on the floor.
 
Approximately 85 percent of those behind bars are being held on drug-related charges, with many of the property crimes linked back to illegal substances.
 
Williams said there are a few inmates being held for their alleged role in violent crimes, but most are property or drug crimes.
 
Questioned as to how much jail construction would cost, the sheriff said he had seen at least one estimate placing the work at between $10 and $12 million.
 
He said any new facility should be designed to hold at least 200 inmates at any given time.
Williams said designing the structure as most new prisons are would be the most cost-effective. Instead of the current design, Williams said most new facilities are being created using a “pod’’ system.
 
In this instance, stations for officers are placed out in the middle of an area with the cells encircling the officer stations.
 
Williams said fewer officers are needed when operating with such a design, meaning the jail would be less expensive to operate.
 
But only adding to the issue of paying for the new jail is the fact the sheriff said there is no adjacent land upon which to build. He said the project’s first step would be to secure the land needed.
 
Asked how much property would be ideal for the project, Williams said, “I would like to see 20 or 30 acres so the entire county (jail) system could be at the same location.’’
 
In other words, the sheriff is confident the undertaking of a jail project would be moving current operations to a new site.
 
Inside the new facility, the sheriff said a larger kitchen is a necessity as is storage space for evidence and other critical items.
 
A large laundry room and separate booking area will be required.
 
“I would also like to see a separate holding area for those we expect to be with us for only 24 to 48 hours,’’ Williams said.
 
“We need an area to hold our short-term inmates. And there are times we will make an arrest of someone wanted in another county or state, so there is no need for us to book them and place them out with the general population who is expected to be there more long-term.’’
 
The sheriff said the separate holding area could also be used for those who need time to “detox’’ from alcohol or drug abuse.
 
Expanding operations with a new facility would allow the sheriff’s department to more properly accommodate female inmates.
 
“When this place was built, it was not designed to house females,’’ Williams noted.
“Sheriffs in the past have had to create space for females and unfortunately, the number of female inmates continues to climb. This is an issue we are seeing across the state.’’
 
Williams said 28 females were being held at the time of the interview. He said this number has risen to as high as 38.
 
In addition to over-crowding issues, the sheriff said there are structural issues with the jail.
“We have mold problems as well as plumbing and electrical issues,’’ he said.
 
“The jail is deteriorating. To be honest, this is becoming a money pit as we continue to pour more and more money into this place. But we are not fixing the problem long-term.’’
 
When asked if he considered the jail issue as a public safety concern, Willliams said he would not go that far.
 
However, he said the jail has become a safety issue for his officers and the inmates.
“This is an employee issue for me and the facility could be better for the inmates,’’ he said. “This is something we will have to address.’’
 
But as is the case with any issue of this magnitude, the conversation comes down to money.
 
Asked how the new facility could be built, Williams said, “That will be left up to the (Marion) County Commission. They would probably have to float a bond issue and pass a tax of some form to pay for it.
 
“I know that is not popular. The last thing folks around here want or need is a new tax. Most other counties who have built a new facility have done so by adding an additional fee against those who come before the county courts. That would probably raise the money to cover the cost.’’
 
Either way, the issue must be placed on the table for an actual debate, Williams said.
“This is an issue we have been talking about for 10-12 years or more,’’ the sheriff said. “I know it is a tough issue, but we must find a way to make this work.’’
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