New jail features few frills

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Shelby County’s 228 inmates won’t confuse their new home with a Hilton Hotel or some posh resort when they move into the new county jail next month.

They will find a state-of-the-art, $17 million jail prized by the Shelby County Commission as an example of pay-as-you-go service achieved without placing the burden of debt on taxpayers. The jail is completely paid for, without financing.

On Monday, Sheriff Chris Curry opened the new jail to visitors with a lunch in the cafeteria of the jail’s main pod, followed by group tours.

County Manager Alex Dudchock recounted the eight-year process that led up to Monday’s grand opening.

Former Shelby County Sheriff James Jones first began the process of building a new jail, and Curry carried out the project.

County administrators, along with Curry, visited the National Institute of Corrections and other jails for ideas before deciding on the jail’s design. Dudchock described the jail’s design as non-traditional in its reliance on natural lighting.

Sitting in the cafeteria Monday morning, judges, commissioners, city council members and police officers ate baked chicken as sunlight streamed through the checkered windows near the jail’s ceiling. Dudchock pointed out that only the security lights were on, yet the entire room was well-lit.

Inside, the jail is an interior decorator’s nightmare, with solid concrete floors, white concrete walls and gray metal framework.

Each cell boasts an open toilet, a small sink, and flat, concrete bunk beds. The cells’ electric sliding doors are secured from a control tower, one to each of the jail’s two main pods.

While no single inmate will have a window to peer out of from their cells, the large glass windows near the jail’s ceiling cast ample sunlight onto the drab gray floors. Throughout the jail, cameras capture every movement.

One important feature of the new jail is the limited movement that prisoners will have, Dudchock said.

Instead of meeting visitors in separate rooms, inmates will look into a video monitor and speak through a phone while their visitors use the same devices from the jail’s front entrance. Inmates will no longer leave their pods for visits, Dudchock said.

Also, inmates’ first court arraignment, usually done within 72 hours of lockup, can also be done by video. This will allow judges to hear initial appearances from within their offices, Dudchock said.

Wayne Watts has served as commander of the Shelby County Jail since 1989, and he said the new jail will increase inmate capacity and improve law enforcement in the county.

&uot;It’s going to be a place that the judges can put people they haven’t had room for,&uot; Watts said.

Watts described the $17 million jail as no-frills. Many of the ceilings in the new jail show exposed duct work and pipes. Ceiling tiles are sparse.

The concrete floors are not painted or tiled. One rare recreational amenity, the basketball court, resembles a cage.

Janet Parker has worked as a corrections officer for Shelby County for six years. She said she will feel more secure coming into work at the new jail, where contact between inmates and officers will be much more limited.

&uot;There’s a lot less contact here as opposed to the old jail,&uot; she said. &uot;We have to interact with them a lot more at the old jail. We won’t have to do that here.&uot;

About 50 employees will direct the day-to-day operations of the new jail.

The sheriff’s office has already moved into the facility, located near the Shelby County Humane Society and the juvenile detention facility in Columbiana. The jail is expected to open to inmates in mid-July to August.

The new jail is designed for 534 inmates, and Dudchock said he hopes it will accompany the county’s prisoner needs through 2024