Fayette County Commissioners Tony Anderson, Jack DeWeese and Dan Dean, as well as Sheriff Vernon Stanforth and Chief Deputy Andy Bivens, met with representatives from the Shremshock architecture firm to review plans for a new jail.
The architects said the drawings and specifications were 99 percent complete, but funding for the new Fayette County Jail has not yet been secured. In an interview with the Record-Herald last year, Dean said, “We will determine how much the county can fund through general revenue bonds, which means that we have to have enough general revenue to make the monthly payments. More than likely there will be a voter-ask or levy proposed to make up any difference in what the county can’t cover.”
Dean said this will likely still be how funding is handled, although the commissioners will also apply for grants to hopefully cover some of the expense. The levy will likely be on the spring ballot.
The jail is needed, according to Anderson, because the current jail is massively overcrowded and simply outdated.
Sheriff Stanforth echoed Anderson’s concerns about the current jail. He said the jail was built in 1884 and 1885 and has been in continuous use since then. According to recommendations from the state based on the square footage of the jail, it should house no more than 28 people. There are, however, 55 beds in the jail and additional cots for when all of these beds are full.
“It’s not unusual to have 60 to 70 people in here at any given time,” said Stanforth.
“When we start hitting that 70 we know we’re maxed out,” he added. As a result of the constant overcrowding of the jail, many inmates are released early. Sometimes, they have the option of working toward early release by doing everything from mopping the jail’s floors to doing the laundry.
This “helps to keep the population flowing” said Stanforth, adding, “If we didn’t have some type of release program with the courts, our population would be off-the-charts crowded.”
Stanforth said anywhere from 75 to 80 percent of the jail’s inmates are there due to drug-related offenses. He said the county attracts a lot of drug dealers because of the interstates that run through it and the fact that these dealers know there is a customer base here.
“We have big city problems with a small county budget,” he said.
The new jail would have 120 beds and would also be designed in such a way that space for 120 additional beds could be added at a later date. Stanforth said, “We need it, we needed it yesterday.”
Stanforth said the jail would be built on the stretch of county-owned land in front of the landfill on Robinson Road between the old Union Township firehouse and the dog shelter, saying, “It’s gonna fit right into that spot.”
Stanforth said this location is “ideal because it’s already owned property.”
Anderson said, if the county does not build a new jail soon, it is possible that the state could come in and build one, then impose a tax to pay for it.
One of the benefits of the new jail would be increased access to both physical and mental healthcare for prisoners. A nurse would likely be brought in full-time, and mental health professionals would have the space to provide proper care. Stanforth said mental health professionals are “coming in now but it’s just a grin and a handshake.”
Currently, Stanforth said, “We don’t do programming like we should be able to do.” This programming could include everything from GED classes to real time spent with mental health professionals. The main reason this programming is not currently offered at the jail is that there is simply no room for it.
“We have to have a secured classroom and group setting,” Stanforth explained. Currently, any group programming that is offered is held in the “drunk tank.”
Anderson said that, before any plans are finalized, “We’ve got a lot of decisions [to make] and discussions to have.”
Reach Megan Neary at 614-440-9124 or @MeganNeary2