JEFFERSON — You’ve seen the images of inmates speaking to their visitors in everything from “Legally Blonde” to episodes of “Law and Order.” The prisoner, decked out in a traffic-cone-colored jumpsuit speaking into a phone on one side of a large sheet of Plexiglass while the visitor speaks into the telephone on the other side.
But at the new Jackson County Jail, this setup is replaced with digital screens and allows inmates to see their visitors wirelessly.
This is one of several high-tech features of the new jail, which the sheriff’s office and jail staff moved into in October 2009.
“We weren’t planning on moving in yet but the leaking was so bad (in the old jail) we didn’t have much choice,” said Sheriff Stan Evans as he walked through the corridors in the new facility, which was paid for through special purpose local option sales tax funds.
“It’s not a Cadillac, but it’s so much better than the old place.”
The administrative offices house files from over the years, which are in the process of becoming digital, as well as the offices for the sheriff, warrant officer and other staff.
Doors are unlocked from a central communications office in the jail, which has video surveillance in several parts of the building and several monitors where the images come up.
“This is the brains of the operation,” Evans said.
The jail also features a medical wing with a different air system from the rest of the building, an enclosed recreation area, holding cells for men and women waiting to make bond, a kitchen and a laundry room.
The kitchen and laundry areas are large enough to accommodate the needs of the 424 people the jail can hold, though only 149 inmates were housed in the facility as of Jan. 15. All of these prisoners are from Jackson County; Evans said the jail staff is still getting used to the new building and isn’t going to house prisoners from other counties just yet.
“And we don’t have anyone house out (in other counties) right now,” he said. “We’re going to wait until we get more staff and then weigh the pros and cons when we cross that bridge.”
The jail and administrative offices have about 63 employees altogether, and Evans said they won’t add any more staff for a while due to budget constraints.
But the employees they do have tend to stay longer than the ones who worked in the old facility, he said.
“We’ve enjoyed it. It’s nice to have a decent place to work, and our turnover rate is lower as a consequence,” Evans said.
This year, Evans said he hopes to start recycling the water used in the laundry room to water the bushes and shrubbery on the property, and even invite the public to come see how the jail operates.
“At some point, we’ll be able to have a public day here. We planned to do it in the fall (of 2009) but we had to abandon ship so to speak and move in quickly,” he explained.
For more information about the jail or the sheriff’s office, visit their Web site.