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County breaks ground on new jail facility

While completion of the project is still more than a year away, the long-discussed construction of a new detention center in Surry County took a big step forward Tuesday with a ground breaking ceremony for the facility.

Sheriff Steve C. Hiatt, county board Chairman Mark Marion, and a host of other county officials were on hand for the ground breaking of the anticipated $41 million detention center.

Despite the hefty price tag, the facility could save the county operating expenses, according to county officials.

The current jail is comprised of two main segments, the “old jail” as many refer to it that was built in the 1970s, and an addition completed in 2002. Altogether, the present facility is designed for 125 inmates — but the jail population often runs significantly higher. Captain Scott Hudson said on Thursday the jail housed 193 inmates, with another 43 housed at nearby facilities.

“Just a couple of weeks ago, we had 226 inmates in-house, with 50-plus out,” Hudson said.

When the jail is so overcrowded, that means inmates must be moved to another jail that has excess capacity, at an average cost of about $45 a day, according to Hudson. Housing inmates at other facilities also takes time away from deputies, who must transport those inmates to and from the prison facilities in other counties.

Don Mitchell, former county facilities director who is still working part-time for the county on the jail project, said over the years the county has paid out “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to house inmates at other facilities.

Once the new Surry County Detention Center is up and running, its 360-bed capacity will meet present demand and leave additional space should the local prison population expand. He said the facility is built in a manner so that additional space can be added, to eventually push the capacity as high as 450.

He said county officials looked at a variety of plans before deciding upon the present one.

“First, we were talking about building a jail and a sheriff’s office, the office they’re in was built in 1974, it’s very overcrowded,” he said. “The first plans were a detention center and sheriff’s office.” But, he said, the cost was more than the county was comfortable taking on.

Another plan was for a new jail to be built and then connected to the present detention center, but that would eliminate most of the parking for the county judicial center, another no-go.

So plans were drawn up for the facility where the ground-breaking took place, a 45-acre plot of land near Snow Street in Dobson the county owns.

Part of the project also includes a new 911 center, along with a new magistrate’s office. While a decision hasn’t yet been finalized as to what will become of the present 911 center, Mitchell said there are several county departments which can use the space. He also said parts of the present jail — the “old jail” portion of the center, will likely be used for storage, while the newer portion can be used for temporary housing for inmates coming in and out of court hearings.

“We appreciate the county management’s’s support, the commissioners’ involvement,” Hudson said of the project. “We look forward to having the facility up and running.”

Mitchell said he wasn’t sure of an exact complete date, other than to say it would be sometime in 2023.

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Source: https://www.mtairynews.com

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