• Bill Raines

Editorial: Proposed Jail To Cost Each Resident $1,000 each - 16 Years of Inaction

LAWRENCE COUNTY - (January 21, 2022) - The first jail study was conducted under former Sheriff Samuel Craig and in July 2021, another jail study was requested under Sheriff Mike Branham.

County Commissioners and County Council have ignored the conditions and problems at the Lawrence County Security Center for 16 years

The proposed 83,000 square facility has a project cost at over $46 Million the population of Lawrence County is 45,496.

According to the study the are several factors listed that indicate the jail population will increase over the next twenty years.

The number of process inmates has steadily increased over the last several years. The severity of crimes has increased over the last ten years as well, including drug crimes, drug related crimes and domestic abuse crimes.

These types of crimes often lead to longer average lengths of stay which affects the daily population. The county has seen an increase in average length of stay of over 47 percent in the last years. The number of sentenced inmates in the facility due to HB 1006 is also a contributing factor.

Lawrence County Zephyr today is looking at the maintenance challenges that have existed for the last several years at the jail which was constructed in 1990.

Jail facilities typically see accelerated deterioration, especially after 20 years. Not only do the inmates typically abuse the facility, but due to being open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, this facility type is in use far more often than other facility types.

This affects everything from the plumbing fixtures to doors and locks, to HVAC equipment.

The Lawrence County Security facility was built in 1990 for 88 inmates but is currently rated for 180 inmates. Because it is operating a significantly higher capacity than what was intended, the effect of 24/7 use is compounded.

Additionally, many components become obsolete and are no longer manufactured and therefore are custom parts and therefore expensive.

The following summary list of maintenance challenges include:

  • Detention equipment including locks, motors, intercoms, and cameras

  • Plumbing including showers (parts are expensive) cast iron pipes(roof drains) that are cracking, and pumps are not working.

  • General equipment replacement including but not limited to heat pumps, water softener, hot water holding tank.

  • HVAC controls including the thermostats are outdated

  • Kitchen/laundry equipment was designed for 88 beds and are near the end of their useful life

  • Public entrance ramp including steel deterioration ( oxidation) broken radiant heat wires, are damaged, spalled and deteroriated concrete ( salt, freeze thaw)

In a meeting with Dan Bush Lawrence County Maintenance Director the following issues were identified.

  • The door motors of the Lawrence County Jail for the sliding doors in the day rooms are obsolete. When the motor breaks this $1,500 cost

  • The camera system is out of license contract most are still analog and outdated

  • Two of the mortise locks on the 2nd floor do not work. Three of the mortise locks on the 1st floor do not work

  • Four of the cast iron drainpipes above the ceiling have been cracking causing an excessive amount of damage over large portions of the building, and flooding ceilings near the elevator

  • Large amounts of water sat on the roof over the kitchen due to clogged pipes

  • The existing roof has not been touched in 12 years

  • Circulation pump alarms do not work ( sump pump)

  • Hot water tank in boiler room has aged and the tank is leaking

  • There is no water control system for inmate toilets

  • Elevator has been upgraded at a cost of $110,000

  • Cooling tower was replaced in 2015

  • Heat pumps have been replaced

  • Water softener is broken

  • Replacing shower parts is becoming costly, all shower heads need replaced

  • The Kitchen and Laundry area were constructed for only 88 inmates

  • Stoves are showing signs of aging

  • Sinks need replaced (hot plates)

  • Ice maker is getting old

  • Exit signs need replaced

  • Jail Cell bars and railing and stairs are a hazard, according to Bush there have been three hangings and 2 attempts

  • The front ramp to the jail and administration has issues since it was built

  • The ramp shifted and broke the radiate heat wires, salt is deteriorating the concrete even more

  • A new dryer has been ordered

During the Lawrence County Commissioners meeting held this week on January 18, 2022, the dryer has just arrived. However, Sheriff Mike Branham now has requested the replacement of the heating pads, stoves, and a new refrigerator.

The larger questions with the two jail studies and eight years under the current administration is why these issues are just now are being addressed and why previous and current county commissioners are just now addressing these concerns in an election year.

With the original jail study under former Sheriff Sam Craig why was that study not acted on and why? Why have not previous elected leaders some who have served as both County Commissioners and County Council members?

Now the cost of a new jail not only has cost each taxpayer money but now the cost has been placed on every resident that does not even pay taxes.

Due to the negligence and failure of their duty has impacted every resident of Lawrence County. In this next election voters need to ask questions and find out if we are selecting the best candidates for the job.

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