09/11/13 — Board reviews options for jail, prison

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Board reviews options for jail, prison

By Steve Herring
Published in News on September 11, 2013 1:46 PM

It could cost Wayne County $75,000 to $100,000 for a cost analysis to look at the operation of the county jail, the Sheriff's Office annex and possible use of the Wayne Correctional Center as a jail once it closes next month.

There are other costs and factors to consider as well before the county could convert the prison into a jail, members of the Wayne County Detention Center Advisory Board were told during a Tuesday morning meeting.

Those include renovations inside the prison to house county inmates, some of whom are more hardened and dangerous criminals than the medium-security inmates now housed at the prison, detention center supervisor Sheriff's Maj. Fane Greenfield said.

Sheriff Carey Winders said he, too, had concerns about the larger open bay units.

"I can't see going in there right now until some improvements are made," Winders said. "I know there are a lot of things on the plate that have got to be looked at. I agree that we need to acquire the property as soon as possible."

Another costly project would be if the county has to run fiber optic cabling to the center.

But the advisory board members were reminded as well that the county is currently paying more than $3,000 a day to house inmates in other counties because of overcrowding in the local jail.

"The quicker we move on it, the soon we can quit paying to outsource the inmates we have now," Winders said.

The county's 200-bed jail is 44 inmates over capacity. If those 44 are housed elsewhere, the cost could top $5,000 daily.

That is the cost taxpayers are having to pay, Winders said.

"We don't have a lot of choice," he said. "You can build a new jail, or you can renovate this one (prison). But this is going to be much cheaper."

Board members were reminded also that converting the prison into a jail could provide a revenue stream for the county since it would provide enough space to not only house local inmates but inmates from other counties as well as state and federal prisoners.

State officials have not indicated what will happen to the Wayne Correctional Center when it closes. But when Wayne County commissioners learned of the closing earlier this summer due to state budget cuts they slowed plans for a new jail in hope that the state would give the prison to the county.

They created the advisory board earlier this month to look at options and to make recommendations as to how the county could use the prison.

Commissioners 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.

On Tuesday the board agreed for County Manager Lee Smith to begin informal talks with third-party agencies in order to obtain a better idea of what the county would have to pay for a cost analysis.

Smith said the state Division of Facilities Services had recommended the cost analysis as the county looks at the project over the next six months to a year.

Winders said that the county needs someone who is familiar with building jails.

"We don't need people who have built banks and shopping centers," he said.

Smith said he would be talking with people who have experience building jails.

Smith said he also will look at draft requests for qualifications for companies that have an interest in performing the actual cost analysis. That information would be brought back to the advisory board for review and then sent to the full board of county commissioners.

The members also adopted a resolution asking that the state make the prison available to the county to use as a jail.

The resolution also calls on the state to allow commissioners and county employees and agents to tour the prison as soon as the inmates have been released so the county can better determine the potential cost of converting the prison to a jail.

The resolution will now go before commissioners for adoption.

Commissioner John Bell, who is chairman of the advisory board, said that the prison building is in good shape, but that the county needs to move quickly.

Both Bell and Commissioner Steve Keen, an ex-officio advisory board member, said they have spoken with members of the county's state legislative delegation who support the county's request.

"They are going to expedite everything that they can," Bell said. "It is sort of a wait-and-see at this point. There isn't anything that we can do other than keep making contact with all of the players in this thing."

Bell said that he also had talked with state prison officials, trying to arrange a tour for commissioners. However, state policy does not allow such tours while inmates are still there. Also, state officials have said that once the facility is closed, and the doors locked, that no one will be allowed in.

Bell said he is attempting to convince prison officials to allow the tour once the inmates are relocated to other facilities and before its doors are locked.