New jail for Scott County nearly finished

Monday, December 23, 2002

BENTON, Mo. -- With a new 120-bed jail nearly completed, Scott County Sheriff Bill Ferrell is looking forward to having more room, even if it's all occupied.

"I think it will be full the day we open," he said. "We had to build this. Our old facility was too small, too dangerous and too subject to a major lawsuit that would cost the county millions. So we're getting excited."

The jail is expected to open in February.

Jim Lichty of Archetype Design Group Inc. designed the building. His firm has designed more than 60 jails. He said the Scott County project has been relatively trouble-free.

Capt. James Chambers will administer the new jail. The 18-year veteran of the department will also direct courtroom officers and oversee the dispatch center.

"This can only help us," Chambers said. "It's something we've needed for a long time, mainly because we needed more space for our jail staff to work in. It's really not a matter of inmate conditions."

Ferrell expects to add 15 to 18 people to his 30-person staff of deputies, office staff, jailers and dispatchers. Some of the new positions will include jailers, a maintenance person and at least two people to supervise the kitchen and laundry.

"We've already been working with too few people as it is," he said. "But we can't know what all we can do and what we can't do until we get in it."

Two jailers operate the old jail, with one working at the dispatch desk. When inmates must be walked over to the courthouse, a road deputy must come in to assist one of the jailers, sometimes leaving no one patrolling the county's roads during that time.

Can't separate prisoners

With four inmates inside each of its 9-by-9-foot cells, the current Scott County Jail does not offer much room for inmates either, Chambers said. The new jail's design allows the 35 square feet of common space and 25 square feet of cell space per prisoner that is required by federal guidelines.

"Right now, if we get an 18-year-old for DWI, he may be put in the same cell as a murder suspect because we have so little room for them we sometimes have no other choice," he said.

The new jail's construction can help staff avoid such difficult choices by providing enough cell pods to allow the separation of different types of prisoners. The new jail has isolation cells and a secure "drunk tank" holding area. An infirmary was also included in the design, but Ferrell said it won't be used much because inmates with medical emergencies are taken to a hospital immediately and those with doctor's appointments are transported.

Drug arrests have bloated the jail population for the last several years, Ferrell said.

The old jail saw more than 1,254 inmates booked this year by mid-December. That was a slight drop from the more than 1,350 booked in 2001, but still higher than the 1,245 inmates booked in 2000 and 1,140 in 1999. Chambers said the county still has more than 1,500 active arrest warrants waiting to be served.

Scott County had to find beds for as many as 100 inmates at a time for several months in a row this year.

The county has spent $611,569 on boarding costs in 2002, said commissioner Jamie Burger. The county had budgeted $500,000. In 2001, the county spent $566,000 but only budgeted $270,000.

Ferrell said he expects a few prisoners may still have to be housed elsewhere for possible medical or court reasons. He said no federal prisoners, juvenile offenders or inmates from other county jails will be housed in Scott County's new jail, at least for the foreseeable future.

Revenue close to forecastThe half-cent sales tax passed by Scott County voters in April 2000 was projected to bring in $1.5 million annually. It collected $1,466,578 in 2001 and $1,474,885 in 2002, Burger said.

He agreed the new jail will likely fill up quickly but is relieved that it is nearly in operation.

"We don't have enough money in this county to build one so we can lock up everyone we need to, but we've just got to do what we can with what we have," he said. "But I've been pleased with the project."

A sunset clause means the tax will expire in 2008, and Ferrell is already concerned with ensuring a renewal.

"I'm seriously concerned about what we'll do if it doesn't pass again to run this operation," he said. "It would be a real drain on the general revenue without it."

No estimates have been made for the new jail's utility costs, he said.

Last week, the commission accepted bids for the jail's new computers, telephones, radios, Ferrell said.

Looking for 'soft spots'Once jail staff can begin working inside the new building, they must begin finding blind areas that the approximately 30 cameras included in the design will not be able to monitor.

More cameras will be added afterward, but in the meantime it will be a game of wits between jail staff and inmates, Chambers said.

"In the old building, we know where all the soft spots are, but in this new one we've got to get in and figure out where they are," he said. "The inmates have nothing better to do than sit for hours figuring out how to break our armor."

The new facility's command post sits in the center of the jail, surrounded by the cell pods, each designed with two levels in a mezzanine style. Officers will control all doors and cameras using a touch-screen computer system.

The pods vary in the number of cells, but each pod has shower stalls and a common area for a table and chairs. One of the pods has an open barracks-style sleeping room for 30 "less troublesome" inmates who can be placed in a less secure holding area, Ferrell said. The pods are enclosed by thick walls and shatterproof glass, slightly mirrored on the inside, making it difficult for inmates see what is happening outside.

Ferrell expressed safety concerns over a few of the jail's fixtures and layout. The ceiling light fixtures in the cells are not recessed and could be broken by inmates, he said. Shower stalls are in the back corners of the pods, out of direct sight, and thus creating a need for additional barred doors and a guard to be on duty for shower time, he said. Ferrell also believes the bunks are not affixed to the walls securely.

Though it is not exactly the way he would have designed it, Ferrell called the new jail a vast improvement over the existing one.

"You can't eliminate every possibility of a safety problem, but experience teaches you what won't work out," he said.

Some additions may have been unnecessary, he said. A meat slicer and an industrial-sized mixer in the kitchen likely won't ever be used.

"All meat items purchased for the jail are presliced, and there probably won't be any birthday cakes made here," he said.

mwells@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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