Visitors tour new Rowan County Satellite Jail building

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 9, 2012

By Mark Wineka
SALISBURY — Touring a jail isn’t always high on a person’s agenda for a Sunday afternoon.
Even so, a good-sized crowd heard a few official comments, watched the ribbon-cutting and took advantage of walk-throughs Sunday of the new $6 million, 160-bed Rowan County Satellite Jail off Grace Church Road.
Norman and Effie File of Salisbury said they were impressed with the minimum-security facility, which is 27,000 square feet. Norman File said one of their main interests, as taxpayers, was in seeing “how are money is being spent.”
Effie File said taking Sunday’s tour makes her wish she could also see the Rowan County Detention Center in downtown Salisbury.
“This — you can really experience it,” she said.
Rowan County Sheriff Kevin Auten said his office anticipates moving inmates into the new facility in the next couple of days.
While the jail is “a necessary evil,” Auten said, this new facility is safe, secure and built for longevity. There’s also enough room on this property, he said, to build five more, if that need would ever arise.
With its video visitation setup, the booking advantages of an enclosed, secure sallyport, a master control room with direct camera supervision of all four dormitories — is it better than the Rowan County Detention Center?
Auten said it’s definitely more efficient, more modern and, of course, hasn’t gone through the retrofitting that has been required of the Detention Center. He credited Moseley Architects with a good design and Summit Developers Inc., the contractor, with executing it.
“Here we just start from scratch and go,” Auten said.
He noted the obvious “bad thing” is that the county is now running two jails instead of one.
But Rowan County District Attorney Brandy Cook, who attended Sunday’s open house, said it will be more efficient for the courts not having to depend on the transportation of Rowan County inmates from Montgomery County.
In the past, because of overcrowding at the downtown Detention Center, Rowan County has had to house some of its inmates in Montgomery and Sampson County jails — an expensive proposition.
With the new satellite jail, Cook said, Rowan County could find itself in the position of housing inmates for other counties and achieving similar financial benefits.
“I think it’s great — (long) overdue,” Cook said after touring the facility.
Auten said it will have a side benefit of relieving some of the pressure on officers working stress-filled, 12-hour shifts at the Rowan County Detention Center.
This is the first jail Summit Developers Inc. has built.
Clay Lindsay of Summit described it as “a very successful project for the county and for us.”
“We had a great project team here,” he said.
On their tours, the public passed through all areas, including four dormitory pods built for 40 inmates each.
The dorms have a spartan design, heavy on concrete and metal. The visitors had free license to inspect everything, including showers, urinals and sinks.
The bunk beds are purposely angled so as not to be at 90 degrees, which would create some blind spots.
In the master control center, Deputy J.D. Thomason described how the monitors will keep track of inmate activities in all the pods, rooms and outside the facility, too.
“It’s going to be strict, that’s the main thing,” Thomason said.
The master control center also includes a master page for speaking directly to inmates in one or all four pods at the same time. In addition, controls in the center can cut off all utilities, including water, which comes in handy, for example, when an inmate tries to purposely flood a toilet.
“That’s kind of nice,” Thomason said. “This is basically the eyes and brains of the facility.”
The jail has 64 cameras inside and out.
“There’s no spot you can’t see,” Thomason said.
Other points of interest in the new jail include administrative offices, a conference room and employee break room. Visitors also caught a glimpse of medical screening, lawyer visitation and video visitation rooms, the kitchen and laundry.
Inmates will change out their uniforms and towels twice a week. The jail washes linens five times a week.
“We have a nice place here to get the bad people off the street,” said Shirley Henrickson, who toured the jail with her son, Jason. “… I’ve never seen the inside of a jail, and I wanted to see it. It’s a nice one.”
Henrickson, who has waitressing experience, took the opportunity to speak with Auten about a possible job in the new jail’s kitchen.
County Commissioner Carl Ford said a jail is not a place he relished opening, but he expressed hope that the men coming through here as inmates — it’s an all-male facility — will be able to change their lives for the better.
Auten may have said it best, when he told Sunday’s visitors the following:
“Make yourself at home, but hope you never have to be here again.”
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.