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Jail construction lagging
Apr 03, 2006 12:00 am
Construction on a 300-bed annex to the Wilson County Jail is lagging behind schedule, causing Sheriff Terry Ashe to worry that by the time the new jail is completed he will be facing a new round of capacity problems that have plagued his department for years.
"We're a lot farther along than we were a year ago, but we're a long way from being completed," Ashe said in an interview last week.
"It's a lot slower progress than they said it was going to be," Ashe said.
The sheriff said he has taken to going out to inspect the work site every day, and at this point he is happy with the work being done.
But what preceded the current pace of construction has the sheriff concerned that too much time was spent on administrative haggling and the building of other criminal court and judicial center facilities.
"I think Terry's a little disappointed that work has not proceeded as fast as it should," said County Mayor Robert Dedman. "We've had a lot of bad weather and I've heard some complaints about how they didn't have enough people working up there, and this and that. But they're moving right along."
The sheriff, though, said he also regrets that the county did not have the foresight to renovate the existing 100 beds or move the court that is contained within the same building as the current jail.
"If they had moved General Sessions Court off site during this construction phase, I'd say they'd be close to being complete," said the sheriff. "But right now I'm saying middle-to-late '07," for completion.
The new 300-bed facility will bring the total jail capacity to 400, but that will still put the county behind counties of similar size in terms of the number of inmates they can house, Ashe said.
"Counties traditionally the size of us have twice as many beds online," Ashe said.
The capacity problem, too, Ashe said, will be felt as Wilson County continues to rapidly expand.
"At the rate we're growing on our daily populations right now, we're averaging way over 200 people a day. And when you factor that in another year from now, our daily population will be probably two-thirds of what's been constructed," Ashe said.
That would not be the situation, the sheriff said, if the county had quickly paved the way for construction to start in 2003 when the bonds were first issued.
"Then we'd be finishing now. The only real hope is that they go in and renovate the current 100 beds I've got in there now. Then we'll have some expansion time built in."
Ashe said he has written several letters to Robert Dedman and others expressing the need for an immediate renovation of the current facility.
Dedman said at this point it would be too late to secure funding for any work this year on the current 100 beds.
"We could put that in next year's budget," Dedman said. "We'll work with Terry and give him whatever he needs up there."
By that time, though, it may be too late, Ashe warned.
"You don't want to build it and then have it be full. You need this 100-bed old facility to be renovated to where it's up and running and can service your needs for growth," Ashe said.
And overcrowding at the facility has been a thorn in the sheriff's side for close to a decade.
"There's people that need to be incarcerated, but we need to incarcerate them in a safe way that's not overcrowded, and that's safe for the inmate as well as for the officer," he said.
In terms of what the new facility will offer, the sheriff said it is adequate for most of his needs.
"There is enough program space in this facility … but the ideal facility would have a learning center that would teach basic trade skills. I would love to take these low-incident type people and teach them a trade so when they walked out of here they might not be part of the recidivism rate."
Ashe said he has made numerous requests of the county for funding for a trade, as well as an education facility, but to no avail.