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Business is booming at county jail; Commission hears expansion ideas

Architect Kevin Miller discusses the floor plan of the jail expansion with commissioners.

Sun Advocate associate editor

"If we build it, they will come," joked Commissioner John Jones. Trouble is, "they" - meaning jail inmates - are coming anyway and the county jail is maxed out.

Jones was talking with his colleagues about the need to handle the growing inmate population at a county commission work meeting Wednesday. The discussion is still in the early stages, but according to Sheriff James Cordova and Lt. Justin Sherman who oversees the jail, the need is there now.

"We reached capacity two years ago," Sherman told commissioners.

The Sheriff's Office has been dealing with GSBS Architects, and Kevin Miller in particular, to find the least-cost solution to the overcrowding.

Miller, who designed the current jail/Sheriff's Office complex more than two decades ago, said that the facility was designed to handle 50 inmates, with a maximum of 86. The low number was one inmate per cell, which nobody really gets unless he or she has some contagious disease, is in protective custody or is seriously nuts.

Another demographic that has changed is the increasing proportion of women in the jail population. They now make up more than a quarter of the inmates - courtesy of methamphetamine abuse - and males and females have to be strictly separated.

Miller said that he and his firm looked at options and decided that abandoning the current jail building and constructing a new one would be too expensive.

However, there is room to the north of the existing building to add additional cells. The Sheriff's Office, which currently cannot accommodate all of its deputies, might be pulled out of the jail building and housed in a separate building of its own. That would free up more than 8,000 square feet of floor space that could be used for such things as jail administration, health services and other mandated programs for inmates, Miller explained.

With the lot space available at the current site, is would be possible to add another 112 beds, more than doubling the current capacity. Commssioners wondered if that was enough or too much space, and that was the question that led to Jones's quip.

Sheriff Cordova advised commissioners that he's not considering the expansion to handle overflow from the state prison system. "We only want to meet our needs locally, he said.

Doubling the capacity would entail an equivalent increase in staff size, Cordova said. The jail now employs 15 people.

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