New Rowan County jail annex ready for inmates

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 3, 2012

By Nathan Hardin
SALISBURY — Authorities expect to begin housing inmates in the new Rowan County jail annex next week.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held at the 160-bed facility at 400 Grace Church Road Sunday at 1 p.m. followed by a tour of the facility. The tour is open to the public.
Prisoners could be transported to the satellite jail as early as Monday, Rowan County Sheriff Kevin Auten said.
The ceremony will cap off the jail’s construction, which has been in progress since Summit Developers won the $4.7 million construction contract in October 2010.
Auten said the project cost a total of about $6 million.
Rowan County authorities have been in need of additional jail space for years, Auten said.
The annex, which is set up to require minimal staffing for operation, will relieve significant overcrowding at the existing Rowan County Detention Center, he said, and will house Rowan inmates who have been transported for housing in other counties.
“We have 208 beds,” at the Rowan County Detention Center, Auten said. “We’re running between 250 and 270” inmates.
At times, the detention center has housed more than 300.
Facility Commander Sgt. Joseph Milem, a Rowan County native, came from Mecklenburg County about six months ago to head the satellite jail.
He said he’s worked in larger detention centers around Charlotte, but the first Mecklenburg County jail he worked in was similar in size to the annex.
“This actually brings me back home, and it brings me to an area that I’m comfortable with,” Milem said.
The satellite jail will have about 20 full-time officers.
Because of the jail’s remote location, Milem said, authorities added some measures to increase security.
“What we have to make sure here, since we’re not connected to downtown, is that we have some extra security in place,” Milem said.
One of those is extra surveillance cameras, he said.
The facility has at least three cameras in each of its four dorms. Additional cameras are in place inside and outside the complex.
The dorms are labeled Unit A through Unit D, but are virtually identical to allow officers to easily monitor inmate activities, he said.
Near the center of the building, a roughly diamond-shaped control room lets officers see into each of the surrounding four dorms through glass or computer monitors.
Each dorm has 40 beds, with toilets and showers connected to the living quarters.
Officers will rotate through the housing areas to check on inmates several times an hour, Milem said.
Dorms are lined with bunk beds angled about a foot away from the walls. In the middle of the room, metal tables have chessboards etched into the frames.
Milem said the jail’s design makes it easier for a smaller number of officers to monitor inmates.
“This is efficiency at its best,” he said. “Also, with efficency, it’s very safe as well.”
A second additional security measure was a controlled roll-up gate that keeps inmates contained as they’re being moved from patrol vehicles to a holding cell just inside.
When patrol cars pull into the gate on the right side of the building, Milem said, the gate will close.
Inmates will be processed inside the building and once the prisoner is in a cell, the gate will open again for the officer to leave, he said.
One of the distinct differences between the detention center in downtown Salisbury and the satellite jail will be “discipline tools,” Milem said.
These tools will include a television with cable programming in each dorm, he said, with a feed for jail programming, such as a list of the facility’s rules.
The jail also has a small recreational yard for each dorm. The yards are covered by a thick grate.
Auten said unruly inmates will have their TVs and yard privileges restricted.
The purpose is to encourage compliance, he said.
“We try to build in some tools that we can take away,” Auten said. “We’re not trying to make it the Holiday Inn, but we are trying to make it better on the staff.”
County officials were forced to come up with a solution to the overcrowded Rowan County Detention Center in 2008, when the head of the state’s jail inspection agency told commissioners there were “dangerous conditions” in the jail.
At the time — prior to the construction of the last jail pod — the detention center had only 162 beds.
It had nearly 100 inmates more than capacity.
Authorities were also housing inmates in Sampson County — nearly 200 miles away.
While working to design the complex and secure a bid for the construction, commissioners voted to move its excess prisoners to Montgomery County.
“In ’07, we started housing prisoners in Sampson county,” Auten said.
“At that time we were housing 40 prisoners. At $50 a day, that’s $2,000 a day. That’s $60,000 a month. That’s three-quarters of a million dollars a year.”
Officials didn’t spend quite that though, Auten said. But they did spend about $650,000 on excess inmate costs in 2008.
Although Montgomery County’s jail, which is just one hour away, was cheaper and required fewer personnel, Auten said the annex will be better in the long term.
“It wasn’t quite as big of a hit as it could have been,” Auten said about the satellite jail, thanks to the now non-existent excess inmate costs.
County commissioners initially awarded a contract to D.H. Griffin Construction in 2010, but that company backed out after realizing its bid was nearly $900,000 less than it should have been due to a clerical error. The contract was then awarded to Summit Developers of Salisbury.
A quarter-cent sales tax increase in November of 2009 gave officials the funds for the jail.
Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.