MT. PLEASANT — With finishing touches being put on the new Henry County Jail and move-in anticipated for October, Sheriff Rich McNamee is preparing to train jail staff in the new facility and planning how they will move Henry County Dispatch from its current location to the new jail with minimum disruptions.
Construction on the new jail facility on South Grand Avenue in Mt. Pleasant began in the spring of 2018. Despite a snowy and cold winter and a rainy spring, construction of the facility is almost complete, with finishing touches such as doors, paint, flooring and furniture being added over the next couple of months. The finished facility will be a 96-bed jail with much-needed office space and training rooms for deputies, jailers and other Sheriff’s Office staff.
The current jail at 106 East Clay Street in Mt. Pleasant is a three-cell facility with a maximum capacity of eight prisoners. The jail population ranges from the teens to mid-30s, forcing Henry County to house inmates in neighboring county jails, which costs an upward of $30,000 a month.
Once construction is completed and the jail is clean, the Sheriff’s office will take two to four weeks to move in and train employees on the new facility. During that time, inmates will be evacuated to other county jails. Jail staff will role play as they train, with some acting as inmates and others acting as jailers.
At that time, Henry County Dispatch also will be moved from the jail on East Clay Street to the new facility on South Grand Avenue, a process which could take anywhere from a few hours to a few days, McNamee said.
Once dispatch gets the green light to move to the new jail, 911 operations will be transferred to another county so Henry County will not have any disruption in 911 service.
McNamee said Henry County dispatch already shares services with Lee County and has since 2013. They also have previous experience transferring service to another county.
“A lightening strike two years ago killed the dispatch center,” McNamee said. “We’ve been through that. At least this time we’re prepared.”
In preparation for more inmates coming into the Henry County Jail, the Sheriff’s Office hired five more jailers, taking the jail staff from eight full time jailers to 13 full time jailers and two part-time jailers. Even so, McNamee said he still is not certain they have enough jail staff.
The Sheriff’s office will retain their 10 deputies and three clerical employees.
The jail is built in two circles. The first is offices for the sheriff, deputies, staff and evidence storage, among other things. The second is the 96-bed jail itself.
A new amenity in the jail is locker rooms for male and female deputies with a bathroom and showers. In the female locker room, there is also a mother’s room, which is an old concept, but something not a lot of building’s are built with, McNamee said. The sheriff, a father of four, said his wife is a strong-minded woman who told him “don’t forget this” in regard to the mother’s room.
An emergency operation center will operate as a break room, a training room and extra office space. If the Henry County Sheriff’s Office were to work on a case with the Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) or the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), agents could set up in the emergency operation center.
This happens more often then you might think, McNamee said. At the current Henry County Jail on East Clay Street, DCI or FBI agents work with Henry County deputy’s over the phone or crammed into the detective’s office.
Other offices in the jail is a deputy squad room, where there will be 10 desks, and an office for the investigator and evidence technician.
When visitors come to the Henry County Jail, they will walk through the lobby and be greeted by one of three clerks. If they are coming to see an inmate, they will be directed to the right, where they will pass by two public restrooms and walk into a visitation lobby. Inmates can chat with visitors through closed circuit TV in one room. In another room, they are able to meet with attorneys face to face with protective glass separating the inmate and the attorney.
Upon arrest, inmates are brought into the jail through a sally port. A deputy will pull into the garage and wait for the garage door to be closed until letting the inmate out of the car. From there, they will take them through booking. If an inmate is being incompliant, they will be placed in a cell in the booking area, which has a padded floor and padded walls and a drain in the center in case the inmate acts out. Once the inmate calms down and can be booked into the jail, the cell can be hosed down and disinfected.
If an inmate is cooperative, they will be placed in a different holding cell in the booking area, where they await their first court appearance.
Every entrance to the jail is a double door, and one door has to be closed for the other to open, McNamee said. In the jail cell area there is a multipurpose room for inmates that can be used for anything from church to GED classes. There is also a day room, where inmates can get out of their cells and play cards or something else to pass the time.
Cells range from maximum, medium and light security. There are also work release cells and special status sales. There are 12 cells for male inmates with work release and eight cells for female inmates with work release.
Four special status cells are for inmates with illnesses such as tuberculosis or even something like poison ivy that could be spread by contact or through the air. Fresh air comes into the cells and is recirculated outside as to not contaminate the rest of the jail. These cells have sky lights, so all inmates get natural light.
“We’d probably use these more than you can imagine,” McNamee said.
In the middle of the cells is the mezzanine, an area where dispatchers and jailers sit to keep surveillance on the cells. All doors can be controlled from the mezzanine. Jailers can buzz the control center in the mezzanine. A camera will zoom in on their face and if the employee in the control center recognizes them, they can open the door to let them through with the push of a button. Cells will have mirrored windows, so jailers can see in to do surveillance, but inmates can’t see out.
Outside the jail is a large item storage shed and an impound lot.