Officials in Henry County say their jail is overcrowded and believe the time has come to build a new one.
The facility was built in 1974 to house 67 inmates, according to Henry County sheriff Lane Perry. But now, he explained, the jail is overflowing with nearly three times that number of inmates.
“You’ve roughly got anywhere from 50 to 60 people sleeping on a mattress on the floor,” Perry said, adding that the jail currently has roughly 175 inmates but only 120 beds.
There is also not enough room for the services many inmates need, such as drug rehabilitation, mental health counseling and education in life skills.
“There’s a point where they’re going to be released for that sentence,” Perry said. “And if we don’t prepare them to be the best they can be, it pretty much creates that revolving door that people have talked about for years and years in the corrections environment.”
In addition to the costs of repairs to the aging jail, taxpayers are also paying for up to 100 inmates at a time to be housed in other jails, Perry added.
“When we actually look down at the fiscal impact of housing out our inmates, the repeated repairs to this facility, it’s coming to the point it just makes more sense to sit down and get a new facility,” he said.
The county has submitted a facility study to the state Department of Corrections showing a need for a new 400-bed jail, Perry said.
According to county officials, a new jail is estimated to cost about $68 million. They say they are hoping the state will pay 25 percent of the bill; the rest would be paid for by local taxpayers.
“A jail is not something you want to do, but it is a critical component of the criminal justice system,” said Dale Wagoner, deputy county administrator. “We have to have room and space to give [inmates] training and programs to make them productive.”
County leaders plan to outline how they will pay for the new jail in next year’s budget, Wagoner said.
It would be several years before a new jail would be finished, Wagoner said. The earliest the jail would be designed would be 2018, he added.