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Downtown Gainesville detention center possible home for correctional institute

POSTED: December 12, 2013 11:42 p.m.

The Hall County Correctional Institute may have an already-built home to move into, in the form of the soon-to-be vacated detention center in Gainesville.

Rather than move forward with a design proposal for a new prison, county commissioners have decided to look at that building, operated by the Corrections Corp. of America through the end of the year.

Commissioner Jeff Stowe brought up the idea at Thursday’s meeting.

“There’s been some talks (about) whether it would work for us,” Stowe said. “And whether it would really work for the city, because their eventual goal was to tear it down.”

According to Stowe, city officials approached the county with the option of the downtown detention center, 622 Main St. 

Gainesville financed the purchase of the North Georgia Detention Center from Hall County for $7.2 million in October 2012. It was operated by CCA, but the company has announced the facility will be closed by the end of the year because of a decline in population.

The Hall County Correctional Institute, 1694 Barber Road, has housed state prisoners for 50 years.

Warden Walt Davis has said the building is too old and there are too many code violations for renovations.

Commissioners were considering awarding a $248,000 contract to IPG Inc., an architecture and planning firm out of Valdosta, for the design phase of a new correctional institute, to be built next door to the existing building.

“(We’ve) also looked at, potentially, if the sheriff just stayed (in the detention center) and part of it was torn down, so that it would meet both our needs,” Stowe said. “I felt like, before we spent $250,000 on design money, I’d rather research all of the possibilities that are currently here.”

Davis said he’s “more than willing” to consider the existing building.

“One thing that does concern me is the fact that it is a county jail, built as a county jail,” Davis said. “And that mission differs from that of a correctional institute. (There’s) a lot more inmate movement and moving details, in-and-out of the facility each day.

“It’s going to require some assistance from other correctional experts and engineers to look at the facility and see if we can make it work,” he added. “We’re not ruling it out at this point.”

Another key feature of the new correctional institute facility will be the Hall County Re-entry Accountability Court Transition program, intended to help qualified inmates transition back into the community with educational and vocational training. The goal is to reduce recidivism rates, and would play a large role in the development of a new building.

Because of that transition program, Chairman Richard Mecum said he doesn’t see the downtown detention center fitting the bill.

“(Can) CCA be a viable option for the correctional institute? No,” Mecum said. “The transitional (program), it’s going to change. It changes the concept of how we look at handling prisoners.

“CCA isn’t geared for that, for what we’re wanting to do,” he added.

Stowe said the building may not be a viable option, but he at least wants to explore the possibility.

“Our current CI is more of a dormitory style whereas that jail is ... all cells,” he said. “So I don’t know if it makes sense or not. I just feel like we owed it to look at it.”

The issue is expected to be readdressed at a January meeting of the commissioners.


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