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Jefferson County jail dormitory conversion project moves forward

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WATERTOWN — Jefferson County is moving forward with plans to spend an estimated $95,000 to renovate a recreation room at the Metro-Jefferson Public Safety Building to hold between 36 and 42 inmates — a project aimed at reducing overcrowding. The work is scheduled to be finished by the end of the year.

Undersheriff Paul W. Trudeau said the county pays to board an average of 50 inmates per day at facilities around the state, a situation the Sheriff’s Department has long contended causes undue strain on its corrections officers and causes a great deal of wear and tear on its vehicles.

“This will help us,” Mr. Trudeau said. “This will alleviate the situation, but it will definitely not fix the situation.”

The Jefferson County Board of Legislators came to a consensus during its July meeting to move ahead with the project, which will require the addition or conversion of some rooms for bathroom and shower facilities.

Special fixtures, including detention grade, stainless steel “Acorn” showers, sinks and toilets, will have to be ordered.

These fixtures account for a large portion of the cost of the conversion, according to County Legislator Philip N. Reed, R-Fishers Landing.

“That’s far and away the most expensive piece,” Mr. Reed said. “They are specialized fixtures. They have to be ordered in advance, and they have to be up to industry standard.”

The fixtures had to be ordered before the project could move forward, Mr. Reed said.

According to documents presented to legislators, general construction is projected to cost $35,000; plumbing, $45,000; electrical work, $10,000; and mechanical work $5,000.

The room is used during the winter to allow inmates to have indoor recreation, according to Mr. Trudeau.

In the summer, inmates use an outdoor courtyard within the facility. Following the renovation, inmates will be allowed to use the outdoor yard for recreation in the winter or they may stay inside their respective housing units for recreation, Mr. Trudeau said.

The project also will require the hiring of additional guards.

Mr. Trudeau declined to give the number of officers, citing security.

Mr. Reed said approximately five additional officers would be hired. These officers will be in addition to the five officers the state Commission of Correction mandated be hired at the facility earlier this year, Mr. Reed said.

The jail has a capacity of 160 inmates but can operate at only 80 percent of that capacity, according to state regulations. The county has a waiver to run the jail at 90 percent capacity — 144 inmates.

Inmates are housed in three pods. Pods 1 and 2 are composed of two 32-inmate units housing minors ages 16 to 18, higher-risk category inmates and the general population.

Pod 3, which consists of a 32-inmate unit housing women and inmate workers, is where the indoor recreation area will be converted into a dormitory for additional inmates.

Eighteen double bunk beds will be positioned around the perimeter of the exterior wall, and six tables will be installed in the center of the room. Two flat-screen TVs will also be installed.

The conversion of the dormitory is viewed as a compromise between the county legislature and those, including Jefferson County Sheriff John P. Burns, who have long advocated for an additional pod to be constructed at the jail.

A 2008 study showed that an additional pod at the Metro-Jefferson Public Safety Building would cost about $12 million and require 10 more guards.

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