Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
MT. PLEASANT - Starting in the late 1980s, the Henry County Sheriff's Office began to outgrow its jail and building, a structure built in 1963.
Since then, various sheriffs have explored options for upgrading the facility, something that became a reality last November when the office moved from its eight-bed facility to a new 108-bed jail.
The process to get into the new jail began in 2013, when the Sheriff's Office alongside the county created a committee to explore the best way to move forward with the project. The committee developed four options, which were presented to residents.
Sheriff Rich McNamee noted people chose, 'unanimously,” the option to build a new facility. The county took the project to bond in August 2017 and a $9.1 million measure was passed to fund the new office and jail and took just a little longer than two years to complete.
McNamee said there were multiple factors which lead to the project. A big concern was the safety for his employees and the county as a whole.
'I can say, 100 percent, it's a lot safer than the old environment,” McNamee said.
With more beds, the sheriff deputies were spending less time transporting inmates to neighboring jails in other counties and driving through towns with inmates.
'It's far more secure and safer for us. We have control cells, intoxicated cells - we have the ability to segregate violent and non-violent inmates,” McNamee said.
Without having to house inmates elsewhere, the office cuts down on costs and save taxpayers money. The sheriff noted in the 2018-2019 fiscal year, the office spent over $200,000 in farming out inmates.
Now the reverse is happening. In light of the coronavirus pandemic, the new facility is being asked to help house inmates from other local jails, the first of which came in March. In mid-July, the jail was housing about 12 out-of-county inmates for $50 a day per inmate.
'That's $600 in revenue a day. It's nice to see that coming in and to get that return,” McNamee said.
The new facility does not only have more beds but is much more spacious. The office grew from 2,000 square feet to 25,600 square feet. Additionally, the new jail includes various high-tech improvements such as electronic doors, intercoms and cameras. With the growth, the office has increased staff.
With a whole new system, McNamee said the office has undergone some 'growing pains” as they've adjusted. As the group prepared to move, staff underwent training to learn the new systems. Now eight months down the line, the sheriff said his staff is 'starting to feel pretty comfortable.”
'Every day is a new day,” he said.
Ultimately, McNamee said the funding and construction of the new facility would not have been possible without a concerted effort among his office, the Board of Supervisors, the jail committee and the general public.
'I'm really proud of this project I was a part of. It's an accomplishment I had set out when I became sheriff, but I can't take sole credit. Everyone came together, and all contributed in some way,” he said.