01/09/05 — County jail expansion recommended

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County jail expansion recommended

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on January 9, 2005 2:08 AM

Wayne County commissioners were advised Friday that they need to spend more than $14 million on an expansion of the county jail.

Brennan Associates Inc. is recommending the overcrowded jail be expanded with a new wing on what's now a parking lot next to the Board of Elections. The construction would permanently close a one-block section of Chestnut Street.

The jail's capacity would rise from its current 200 prisoners to 456, which should be enough to serve the county through at least 2025, Jim Brennan said.

The commissioners could make a decision as soon as February. If they proceed, the design could be completed by year's end. Construction could begin as early as March 2006 and be completed by the end of 2007, Brennan said.

That does mean, however, that overcrowding at the jail would likely last another three years, officials said.

The county commissioners met Friday at the Hampton Inn for the first of several work sessions that will eventually shape the county's 2005-06 budget.

The board will next meet Tuesday at the Goldsboro Country Club. Other work sessions are set for Jan. 25 and Feb. 3.

Sheriff Carey Winders and his staff opened Friday's session with an overview of their office, which has 143 full-time employees and 64 part-time.

In 2004, deputies responded to more than 26,000 calls and filed more than 16,000 reports. They served more than 21,000 court papers.

The detectives' division was involved with more than 2,000 investigations. More than $2.4 million in property was reported stolen last year in the county, with the sheriff's office eventually recovering $1.3 million.

The sheriff's office made 326 felony arrests. It was also involved in the seizure of drugs and property valued at more than $12 million from accused drug dealers.

This success has fueled problems in the jail, which is also run by the sheriff.

"I feel divided in half," Winders told the commissioners. As much trouble as it is to track people down and lock them up, it is also expensive to keep them in jail. It costs $44.30 per prisoner per day, mainly due to the cost of staffing.

The jail has been above its capacity for more than a year, which has forced some prisoners to have to sleep on mattresses on the floor.

The commissioners hired Brennan Associates in late 2003 to study the inmate population and recommend alternatives. That report was delivered Friday.

By 2025, Wayne County is expected to have nearly 135,000 residents, up from 117,000 now. But the jail population could grow even more quickly, Brennan said.

The firm's most conservative projection was that the county jail will need 347 beds in 2025. But if the population grows at a 4-percent rate, the jail might need room for as many as 800 inmates, he said.

Brennan Associates looked at three options: An all-new jail in a different location, a satellite jail, and expansion of the existing building. But the first two would have cost the county more ultimately in duplicated services, transportation and other costs, Brennan said.

The recommendation would add space for 256 inmates. The current building would be joined by a wing across Chestnut Street to a new six-story building. The new cells would be laid out more efficiently than the current jail, which will mean less of a demand for new detention officers, he said.

When it opened, the new section would have extra beds that could house state prisoners or inmates from other counties, he added. With 60 extra beds, the jail could generate $1.1 million in revenue per year, which would offset the construction cost of the new section and some of its operating costs.

The sheriff's offices would gain around 7,000 square feet in the move, and the magistrates' offices and the prisoner intake areas would be relocated and given more room.

Even if the addition is built, the county will need to explore programs, such as electronic monitoring, County Manager Lee Smith said.

Also, the county needs to reconvene its jail committee, which had been studying ways to keep the population down.