Saturday, June 17, 2006

Additional Space For County Department of Corrections

By Lynndi Lockenour

New jail cells, entirely constructed upon arrival, made their way through the window of the Department of Corrections a few weeks ago with the help of a crane. The additional cells are just one of many improvements being made to the former Sheriff’s Department facility. Other changes include: updating security technology, installing more cameras, and adding new equipment to the laundry room, as well as making it larger.

The jail’s maximum capacity is currently 502 beds. After the renovation, there will be 630+ beds available. Colonel Alan Stahl, Director of Corrections, said the renovation will allow for better population management among inmates by creating smaller units. “Having 12 and 24 person units will allow us to keep specific inmate populations together,” he said. “So for example, we don’t end up with an inmate convicted of assault being placed in the same unit as someone who is here for an unpaid traffic ticket.”

The jail was first completed in 1989, with a capacity of 220 beds. In 2000 a new unit, now the maximum-security division, was added onto the building, including 22 beds. After the juvenile center moved its location, their former space was converted into a work-release area, containing 110 beds. These renovations, combined with other, more minor alterations throughout the years, bring the facility to its current capacity of 502 prisoners.

The present expansion began last year in April. This renovation has converted nearly all the space that previously belonged to the Sheriff’s Department into actual jail cell space.

A capitol tax, approved by voters last year, allowing county government to make improvements to buildings and grounds, generated the funds necessary to make the improvements. “Expansions like these let us keep the buildings modernized and assures that we are getting the best utilization for the space we have,” he said.

Now averaging 290 inmates daily, at the beginning of the current renovation, the average was over 400 prisoners. “At first we were in dire need of the space,” Stahl said. With the average number of inmates declining, Stahl said he hopes when the new units are finished they can begin making improvements to the old cells. “Inmates can occupy the new cells, leaving the old ones empty,” he said. “This will allow our facilities staff to go in and do work on the old units, some of which have been around 20 years or longer.”

The biggest difference between the old facility and the new ones is the technology that is being used. The old cells used push-button controls, while the new ones will all be controlled with touch screen tools. Stahl said the new renovation will add a great number of cameras. Also, the cameras all contain recording equipment, allowing for better security and monitoring of inmates. “If we have an incident in the jail then we can go back and review the footage to see what happened and who participated,” Stahl said.

A new elevator was also installed to transport inmates from the first to third floors in a safe and secure manner. The elevator was erected in the center of the remaining building. “That’s marvelous construction as far as I’m concerned, ” Stahl said.

The renovation will also increase visitation space, allowing more visitors. “When you are trying to get 500 or 600 people through visitation in one week, it really helps to have the correct accommodations,” Stahl said.

In his 11 years with the St. Charles County Jail System, Stahl said he’s seen the county adapt to changes. “As population areas get bigger, the accompanying crime goes with it,” he said. “The great part of that is the administrators have been very attuned to this and have made sure the jail capacity is accurate at all times in order for us to provide a safe environment.”

He said a lot of jails throughout the country do not have the administrative support offered in St. Charles County. “ Often they continue to get more and more crowded and no one does anything about the capacity itself,” Stahl said. “Once you reach overcrowded situations like these, it becomes very dangerous.”

The current construction project is scheduled to be finished at the end of this year, but Stahl said they aren’t tied to a specific date just yet. “Construction can run late sometimes so it might be after the first of the year,” he said. “But whenever it is, we’ll be more than ready to get started using the new facilities.”