Polk commissioners talk future of jail

Published 9:09 pm Thursday, November 13, 2014

by Leah Justice



With rising costs to house inmates in another county because there is not enough room in Polk County’s Jail, commissioners have begun serious conversations about jail needs for the future.

Commissioners had a workshop to talk about jail needs Oct. 20 and plan to review a list of consultants who can conduct a study of the jail during a meeting scheduled Monday, Nov. 17.

The workshop began with costs to Polk County for housing overflow inmates elsewhere. In 2014, as of Oct. 20, Polk County has spent $93,999.

Since 2012, Polk has spent a total of $195,628 housing inmates in other counties.

Commissioner chair Ted Owens said he felt like it is time the county start talking about the future of the jail, saying that in 2006, Polk did a study on all facilities, including the jail.

Interim Polk County Manager Marche Pittman said the company doing the study in 2006 considered the sheriff’s office and the jail a serious issue then. The study discussed parking being unsecure, issues with filing and storage cabinets, inadequate kitchen space and noted that the magistrate’s office was “awful.”

Commissioner Tom Pack said commissioners first need to decide if Polk wants to build a new jail and if so decide if the new jail will house state and federal prisoners, or decide if the county wants to house all prisoners elsewhere.

Polk County Sheriff Donald Hill said his position is that it is not fair to Polk citizens to house all inmates elsewhere.

“My position is if you house (all inmates outside) you fall at the mercy of everyone else,” Hill said.

Hill said he doesn’t think it’s fair to citizens because the people he houses are mostly citizens of Polk County and he has parents and grandparents come and visit inmates.

“Those people live here and pay taxes and have to drive 45 minutes to go see their relatives,” Hill said. “That’s where I stand on that. I represent the people of Polk County…the law abiding people and the people that do wrong.”

Polk County currently has an agreement with Transylvania County to house Polk’s overflow and female inmates for $40 per day. Hill said other counties cost $75 per day. Hill said he often gets calls from people asking why Polk inmates are in Transylvania County and Hill said he hates it, but he has a 25-bed facility and often has 45 inmates in custody, so there’s not a whole lot he can do.

Transylvania County recently built a new jail, which includes all emergency service departments and cost $19 million, according to Hill.

Hill said he’s been told a jail with 120 beds would cost an estimated $7 million, depending on costs of materials.

Hill said his average is 40-50 inmates.

Hill said in 1973-1974, Polk’s jail was a good jail and up to date, but with all the new mandates, he is having problems, such as not being able to house juvenile inmates. Rules are that a 16-17-year old cannot be housed within hearing distance of an adult inmate and Hill said in his facility that is impossible.

“Now it’s juveniles, and along with not being able to house females, it’s creating a problem,” Hill said.

Hill said McDowell County added another section to its jail specifically to house juveniles, but asked where on his facility space could be added.

“That’s the question,” Hill said. “That’s what we’re dealing with. We’ve been very fortunate that we’ve been as successful as we have with the jail. We keep trying to improve it, keep trying to do the best we can.”

Polk has spent significant money making repairs and upgrades to the jail in recent years, including $110,000 budgeted to fix plumbing issues and spending more on the heating and air system. The county recently fixed the roof for approximately $40,000.

Another issue that surfaced during the workshop was transporting inmates to and from Transylvania County for court dates.

Polk County Jail Administrator Robert Gordon said if someone calls at 1 a.m. and says they are at the jail to bail out their brother, the law says if they have the means to make bond, we have to let them out. Gordon said the next day after the workshop, Polk had to transport 4-5 males and 1-2 females and they can’t all be hauled in one vehicle.

“It would have to be a van set up and designed to carry inmates and that’s an expense,” Gordon said.

Hill also said the $40 per day per inmate doesn’t include medical expenses.

Commissioners came to a consensus for the sheriff to bring transport van estimates to Monday’s meeting.

Commissioner Ray Gasperson said he’s always felt like building a new jail will be like the cost of building a new middle school. The question is, Gasperson said, should there be a referendum at some point because that’s going to be a lot of money.

Hill said he doesn’t need anything elaborate. Gordon said Transylvania County built its jail in a little over two years from when they started. Construction of the actual building took about a year and a half, Gordon said, with Transylvania County saving for 10 years after doing a study.

Commissioners said when Transylvania County opened its doors they owed nothing and they now make approximately $60,000 per month housing outside inmates.

Gordon said Polk County averages 12-15 inmates per day housed in Transylvania County.

Commissioners decided to review consultants and van recommendations during the second meeting in November, which is Monday, Nov. 17.

Hill ended by saying even after all the improvements he can still walk around the building and see brown spots on the ceilings.

“People have to work for me,” Hill said. “I think it’s time. We need to look at something at some point. I hear my employees. Who would want to be in that? We need to address it at some point.”