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Haywood to spend $49K on jail space study

Haywood County Detention Center is running out of space for inmates and is looking at a future expansion. File photo Haywood County Detention Center is running out of space for inmates and is looking at a future expansion. File photo

Haywood County Commissioners approved spending $49,000 to fund a space needs study at the detention center.

Sheriff Greg Christopher approached commissioners a few months ago about the growing jail population and the need for additional cell space to safely house inmates. In March 2013, the average daily jail population was 109 inmates and as of Nov. 8, 2019, the average daily population was 112, according to Christopher. The maximum capacity at the detention center is 149 — 109 in the main jail facility and only 31 of the beds are in the female pod. 

As of December 2019, Christopher said the average daily inmate population is 133 — 99 male and 34 female. The detention center is also detaining 16 inmates that should be serving their sentence in a state correctional facility but there’s not enough room for them at the state level either. 

Back in November, Christopher told commissioners that space was already an issue when he became sheriff in 2013, but jail ministry programs as well as getting Haywood Pathways Center up and running had delayed the need for additional jail space by reducing recidivism rates. However, Christopher said he doesn’t think an expansion project can be delayed for much longer. 

With the increasing number of female inmates and the need to separate inmates charged with violent and nonviolent crimes, Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick said more space was needed.

“We knew when we built the jail we’d have to build on another pod at some point — didn’t realize it would be in 15 years,” he said. 

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While he doesn’t know what the results of the space needs analysis will be yet, Christopher is fairly confident the jail will need at least two new pods. However, he said he would also like the county to build for future growth as well so another expansion isn’t needed in another 10 to 15 years. 

“Whatever we do, when we do it this time I don’t want two or three sheriffs down the road to have deal with it,” he told commissioners. 

Kirkpatrick said he wouldn’t want to see an expansion that would significantly increase the jail’s personnel and operational budgets either. 

Todd Davis with Moseley Architects said the firm really tries to take all those factors into consideration during the analysis. 

Christopher said depending on the recommendations Moseley comes back with, the jail may have to look at changing the way inmates are supervised. Instead of checking the pods every 30 minutes, some jails — including Buncombe and Henderson counties — are now using direct supervision methods where an officer is inside an inmate area for an entire 12-hour shift. 

Moseley has done these types of space studies for a lot of county governments. Most recently the firm completed a $300,000 space needs study for all of Macon County’s facilities. The results reported in November were no surprise to Sheriff Robbie Holland, who’s been dealing with an overcrowded jail for the past few years. 

Moseley recently presented Macon commissioners with a list of top priorities totaling more than $125 million in needed infrastructure projects, including a massive project to consolidate the courthouse, sheriff’s department and the detention center operations into a new justice center complex to the tune of $77.3 million.

The good news for Haywood’s jail, Davis said, is that the larger core pieces of the facility — like the medical exam space and the kitchen — were built larger than other jails he’s seen in the region. Macon County’s detention center doesn’t even have a kitchen, making an expansion project nearly impossible. 

“We won’t have to add more kitchen space — maybe just more equipment. Usually we have to redo the kitchen and that is hard to do and keep the facility running at the same time,” Davis said. 

Commissioners unanimously approved a $49,000 contract with Moseley to complete the space study, which will include evaluating the current facility, forecasting inmate populations through 2040, projecting costs, present findings to commissioners as well as submit a written report. 

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