Jail overcrowding prompting need for renovationsPublished 5:34pm Friday, February 3, 2012
ST. JOSEPH — Overcrowding in the intake and release area of the Berrien County Jail and several other problems with the building have Sheriff Paul Bailey pushing for renovations.
He addressed Berrien County Commissioners Thursday about the issue, citing a 2009 study of the jail by Wold Architects and Engineers that found several deficiencies in the booking area.
Bailey asked the commissioners to come up with a plan to start a project involving an estimated $4 million in renovations. Currently there is no money available for such a venture, but Bailey urged the commissioners to act by 2013 or 2014.
John LaMore, 12th District commissioner, agreed that the work needs to be done but was noncommittal on a target date of 2013.
“There are no ifs and ands or buts about it. The renovations absolutely need to be done,” he said. “As far as when it can be done, we’ll have to see.”
The county board’s administration committee, which LaMore sits on, will discuss the issue for the next three to four weeks.
Some of the problems with the jail include: a booking area that is too small, an insufficient number of booking cells, no separation between the booking and release area and no padded safety cells in the receiving area.
Bailey said there is also no space for medical staff to conduct inmate triage or health assessments.
Most of issues are due to lack of space.
“Over a weekend, we can have 60 to 80 people booked in there,” he said.
Bailey said the county really could use a brand new jail. The old part of the building was built in 1951 with an expansion in 1981.
But since a new jail won’t be a reality for at least 10 to 15 years, Bailey said renovations are needed in the meantime.
A new jail would allow the county to ditch its current linear design for a pod-style jail that would allow for more efficiency.
“Less deputies are needed to supervise the inmates” in a podular jail, Bailey said.
“I don’t know what magic money ball of $40 million that would have to fall out of the sky to do that,” LaMore said. “It’s totally impractical at this time.”
But he said the stopgap measure of jail renovations could be possible through earmarking a certain amount of money per year to the project or introducing a small millage.
Bailey said he hopes the commissioners approve hiring an architect to design the improvements and give the county an estimate to get the ball rolling on the project.