09/07/13 — Commissioners eye jail situation

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Commissioners eye jail situation

By Steve Herring
Published in News on September 7, 2013 10:33 PM

It is too early to say what will happen to the Wayne Correctional Center when it closes next month because of budget cuts, officials have said.

But Wayne County commissioners, who hope that the state will give the prison to the county, aren't waiting to make their case.

The commission has created an advisory board to look at options and to make recommendations as to how the county could use the prison.

Commissioners envision the 428-bed prison as a less-expensive option to building a new jail to alleviate the chronic overcrowding that is forcing the county to house inmates in other counties.

They even projected a $4 million renovation project at the prison in the county's capital improvement plan for fiscal year 2015-16, just in case the state agrees to such an arrangement.

The advisory board will hold its first meeting Tuesday at 8 a.m. in Room 458 on the fourth floor of the county courthouse.

Commissioners also have recruited and received support from the county's state legislative delegation.

The cost of a building a new jail could easily top $50 million, officials have said.

Commissioner Chairman Steve Keen said he instructed County Manager Lee Smith and Marcia Wilson, clerk to the board, to assemble the group.

Keen also asked Commissioner John Bell to serve as chairman.

The new advisory board will include Ray Mayo, who is chairman of the commissioners' Facilities Committee, Sheriff Carey Winders or his designee, Smith or his designee, Facilities Director Milford Smith or his designee, court liaison Jennifer Smith, detention center representative Major Fane Greenfield, Information Technology Director Steven Cross or his designee, Superior Court Judge Arnold Jones or his designee, Chief District Court Judge David Brantley or his designee, County Attorney Borden Parker and Keen, as an ex-officio member.

Wayne County has had jail committees in the past, but the this one will be "very specific" on the prison, Smith said.

"Part of the scope and duties of the Wayne County Detention Center Advisory Board is reviewing past and present detention centers or facilities, developing recommendations for commissioners and the sheriff regarding the use, reuse, renovation and/or construction of detention center buildings," he said.

That also includes any other items determined by commissioners, he added.

"Obviously, this is going to be an ongoing project and gets very specific to operations," Smith said. "In talking with the facilities director, talking with the sheriff and meeting with a few of the board members. I know that my office feels this will be a very specific project.

"We do need some folks who have that expertise, talking to not only the political side of the facilities, but also its connection back to operations, which is the sheriff's responsibility."

Any recommendation would go back to the Facilities Committee and then to commissioners for final approval, Smith said.

Keen said he thought it appropriate to get the board's consensus on the advisory board before proceeding.

Mayo's motion to accept the board as presented was approved unanimously.

"I think this is a move in the right direction," Commissioner Joe Daughtery said. "But I do want to point out the urgency of this."

Daughtery said that commissioners receive daily reports of the jail population and the number of inmates being housed outside Wayne County.

As of Wednesday, the 200-bed Wayne County Jail at the corner of William and Chestnut streets had a population of 244.

Another 60 inmates are housed in other county jails -- at a cost of $50 per inmate per day.

Placing the other 44 inmates in other facilities would add $2,200 a day, for a total cost of $5,200.

"We are now approaching $1.4 million on an annualized basis that we are spending to have our prisoners housed outside Wayne County," Daughtery said. "This needs to be done sooner rather than later. The sooner, in fact, that we can affect the transfer and the use of this facility, the better for all of our county."

Commissioners have said that the larger prison facility would not only be able to handle the inmate population, but would also provide enough additional space that could allow the county to make money by housing inmates from other counties.

Keen said Bell already is talking with prison officials in an effort to get commissioners a tour of the prison as soon as possible.

Bell said prison officials have told him that the unit cannot be visited until all of the inmates are relocated.

He said he is trying to convince state officials to allow commissioners to tour the prison before the doors are locked.