WARNER ROBINS — The $7.5 million expansion of the Houston County jail by 160 beds is nearly complete.
The official opening is scheduled for Friday with a final walk through for elected officials and public safety officers. Inmates are expected to be moved over sometime next month.
Houston County officials moved to expand the jail in Perry after its population soared above the 506-bed capacity, requiring inmates to be farmed out to other jails in the state.
In fiscal 2009, the county spent $790,000 to house Houston County inmates in other facilities with as many as 85 boarded out at one point, said Steve Engle, director of administration.
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That cost fell to $40,000 for the first part of fiscal 2010, which was July through December, Engle said. No more than 12 have been boarded out at one time during the first part of the fiscal year, he said.
Houston County Sheriff Cullen Talton said the expansion hopefully will put an end to the release on bond of suspects charged with major felonies, from murder to drug dealing. The sheriff expressed concern that some inmates charged with such felonies may have received bond in order to alleviate jail overcrowding.
Houston County District Attorney Kelly Burke said he agrees that some inmates accused of serious offenses have been released on bond that he would have preferred remain in jail. But the prosecutor said he felt that judges are not to blame but county commissioners who didn’t plan far enough ahead for the increase in the jail population.
Commissioner Tom McMichael said commissioners did not think the expansion would be needed so soon after the jail was built, but the tremendous population growth that Houston County experienced brought with it more crime and, thus, more inmates. McMichael said he is hopeful the expansion will address the issue, including keeping those charged with serious offenses off the streets pending trial.
With the ability to hold more than 500 inmates, the jail was near or at capacity when it opened in 2003. However, there was not a need at that time to farm out inmates, McMichael recalled. The jail was built with future expansion in mind. For example, kitchen, laundry and other facilities were built large enough when the jail was originally constructed for the addition of jail pods.
The expansion includes two pods that hold 80 beds each. The total project cost was $8 million, with $500,000 spent on architectural fees and other expenses, said Tommy Stalnaker, the county’s director of operations. The $7.5 million paid for the construction.
On Friday, officials will conduct the final walk through of the expansion to ensure all is complete before the pods are officially turned over to the county, Stalnaker said.
“I’m always glad to finish a project,” Stalnaker said. He noted that the project stayed on schedule and under budget, leaving about $50,000 in contingency funds that will return to county coffers. Half of the project was paid for through revenue from the special purpose local option sales tax and the rest through the county’s general fund, which covers normal day-to-day operations of the county.
Houston County sheriff’s Maj. Charles Holt, jail administrator, said he expects inmates will be moved into the new pods next month. Moving inmates in now will serve two key purposes: testing the functionality of the jail and allowing the current facility to undergo a face-lift, Holt said.
Having inmates in the new pods now will ensure everything is functioning properly before the jail reaches its new 666-bed capacity, Holt said. Also, existing jail pods may be painted where needed and any other repairs that may be needed may be done, he said. The Houston jail is averaging about 450 inmates per day this month.
To contact Becky Purser, call 256-9559.