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Ready for business…almost

By Staff
Sheriff gets keys to new county jail; preparations for opening under way
Clif Knight, Hartselle Enquirer
With construction work complete Morgan County Sheriff Greg Bartlett has implemented a transition plan aimed at getting the new Morgan County jail ready for occupancy by May 15. The county is under a federal court order to have the facility in operation not later than June 1.
Bartlett received the keys to the $23 million building from Doster Construction Co. on Dec. 22 and immediately turned to a five-member transition team for help in checking it out and making sure everything works properly, establishing operating policies and procedures and training detention personnel.
"This is a massive building (107,000 sq. ft). Everything is high tech and has to be operated electronically. Everyone who works here has to have special training," said Bartlett. "The transition team faces a tough challenge over the next two months, but I'm confident they'll do a thorough job and we'll be ready to go on time.
"We have found the need to make changes in a few areas for security reasons but overall I'm pleased with the facility," Bartlett pointed out. "It's going to alleviate overcrowding and create a safer, more secure environment for detention personnel as well as the inmates."
"I'm glad we've gotten to this point with the new jail and are still within budget," Morgan County Commission Chairman John Glasscock said.
"We budgeted $1 million last October to take care of transition expenses such as buying furnishings and supplies.
"We expect to have a laundry list of needs from the sheriff for consideration within a few weeks. We'll also be dealing soon with the issue of additional staffing as well as setting up the jail's operating budget for the last four months of fiscal 2005-06."
The new jail building is located about 200 yards west of the courthouse on a five-acre lot. It is constructed of steel, concrete and brick and has space to house more than 400 inmates. It also provides offices and other facilities for the sheriff's department personnel.
Inmates will be housed in four separate pods, each equipped with a common area and an indoor and outdoor exercise area. One is for female inmates.
The hub of the jail is a command center equipped with state of the art electronic equipment. Computer operators are able to open and close cell and cellblock doors, operate video cameras and perform many other operations simply by moving a mouse and pressing a button on a keyboard.
A video room with six large monitors affords visitors the opportunity to communicate visually and orally with inmates. Monitors are also located in the inmate pods.
"Video visitation will eliminate inmates getting their hands on something illegal that is brought in by visitors," Bartlett said. "We'll probably increase visitation from one to three or four days a week."
Bartlett said training will be a key in the transition process.
"We don't have the option of shutting down the old jail while our officers learn how to operate the new one," he pointed "They'll have to train while working their regular jobs."
Another important part of the transition will be the employment and training of additional personnel that will be needed to operate the new jail.
Bartlett said new hires will be added in increments over a period of several weeks to facilitate training. "We're looking at possible ways to keep the number down, such as 12-hour shifts," he pointed out, "but ultimately the court will determine if we have a sufficient number of operate the jail safety and smoothly."

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