Sheriff questions jail security

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 12, 2007

The county commission gave final jail bids its vote of approval on Monday, but Sheriff Kenny Harden said he already has security concerns about the multi-million dollar facility.

Harden said re-designed plans for the new jail – which trimmed close to $2 million dollars from a now estimated $4.5 million dollar project – has also sacrificed internal security measures common in other detention facilities. Harden said dormitory areas in the new jail, known in prisons as &#8220pods”, would allow inmates to mingle freely day and night, and jailers would only have the ability to lock down 13 percent of the jail's population at any given time.

&#8220Anytime you have a dormitory-type setting that throws up a red flag us to us,” said Harden.

Jail Administrator Al McKee, who currently oversees a staff of 11 jailers at the old county jail, said the new facility would require additional manpower in order to guard against problems stemming from too much interaction among the inmates. Harden said the original plans for the new jail allowed for all areas of the facility to be locked down and inmates separated from one another.

McKee said a staff of 11 people could have worked in that environment.

Not so in the jail's redesign, he said.

&#8220When you have that type of atmosphere, you lose controlŠthe inmates are the ones running the jail,” said McKee.

And the safety of any inmate, said McKee, couldn't be guaranteed. Those incarcerated for the most violent of crimes could be housed in the same pod as those who failed to pay a parking ticket, he said.

Harden said he is pleased the county is moving forward with building the new jail.

&#8220(Commission) Chairman (Jesse) McWilliams has assured me that we are going to try and correct those issues we have,” said Harden.

The county commission was forced to cut the original design of the jail from 16,019 square foot to 12,694 square foot because of an initial price tag of $6.5 million.

McWilliams said the commission realized the completed jail would not be as superior as originally envisioned.

&#8220Is it perfect? No it's not perfect,” said McWilliams. &#8220It's not what the sheriff would like and it's not what the commission would like, but it's better than what we have.”

The current county jail was built in 1929 and conditions inside have deteriorated with age.

In other business during Monday's meeting, the commission:

n Approved a resolution to incorporate a capital improvement cooperative district for the Board of Education. Along with the city of Georgiana, the commission will appoint representatives to serve on a cooperative district that will oversee the issuance of a $25 million bond for new school construction.

n Approved a resolution to provide 12.5 percent in matching funds for the purchase of a weather siren for the county. The siren is estimated to cost $21,690, according to EMA Bob Luman.

n Approved an off-premises only beer and wine license application for S&W Food Mart II.

n Engineer Dennis McCall updated the commission on the county's $1.2 million federal aid resurfacing project, which includes Highways 54 and 46.

McCall also said the county will receive a $60,000 High Risk Rural Road grant through the federal government. McCall said the funds would be used to re-stripe some of the county's rural roadways.

He said based on 2005 statistics, the county had 101 accidents on its roadways, not including those that happened on state roads or Interstate 65. 34 of those accidents involved injuries and there were eight fatalities, McCall said.