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Warden says correctional institute is not safe, needs serious repair or replacing
Plumbing in the aging Hall County Correctional Institute is expensive to repair and difficult to install, officials say.

When it rains, the roof leaks. When the roof leaks, the fire alarm system might go off. And in the summer, sheriff’s deputies work in stifling temperatures.

This is the condition of the 45-year-old Hall County Correctional Institution, which currently houses 154 state prisoners who provide cost-saving labor for the county.

Warden Avery Niles made his case clear last Wednesday when he asked the county for more than $3 million to help repair the building. Niles said the county needs a new prison work camp.

"When you’ve got windows you can literally push out, even though you have those bars there, it’s a safety concern," Niles said. "It’s my job to keep the inmates in this facility. I want to do everything I can so at the end of the day I can check off my list that the facility is safe and secure."

Niles asked the county budget panel for money to replace the correctional institution’s fire alarm and surveillance systems, repair its leaky roof, replace lighting and windows and to install a new heating and air conditioning system.

The facility now uses ceiling heating units that keep the building fairly warm in the winter, but only six aging box fans circulate air throughout the entire building during the summer.

Niles said the roof leaks in the three dormitories, the chapel, the isolation area and in administrative offices.

"Whenever it rains, because of the leaks we have in the roof system, some of the water gets down into the (fire) alarm system that causes it to go off," he said.

Niles said the toilets and showers are inadequate, as well as the prison’s doors, locks and small kitchen.

He said the building, which also lacks a permanent metal detector system, is simply outdated.

"We still pat inmates down like they did in the ’60s," Niles said.

Jim Shuler, Hall County administrator, said county officials will evaluate the facility to see if there are other options besides a new building, but he noted that choices are limited.

"We have to look at a new facility. To go in and upgrade (it) is probably not cost effective," Shuler said. "That facility does provide our labor force for county operations like public works, parks and road maintenance."

The prison work camp has the potential to house 240 state prisoners who could work 8« hours per day, five days a week. The state also reimburses the county $20 per day for each state prisoner.

County budget officer Jeremy Perry estimates the labor of 240 state prisoners would save the county $4,631,861 in labor costs for fiscal year 2009.

Shuler said if county commissioners want to expand the correctional institution to house more prisoners, a new prison would probably be more cost efficient than repairing and expanding the old one.

Money for a new county prison work camp could come from state funding and sales taxes.