New Franklin County jail on budget, almost on time

Geoff Folsom, Herald staff writerJanuary 11, 2014 

— Capt. Rick Long’s influence on the new Franklin County jail is evident, starting at the door.

A traditional barred door separates the jail section of the new 57,000-square-foot Franklin County Justice Center from the rest of the building, which also houses sheriff’s offices and a new Pasco Municipal Court.

Long has seen many doors with bars on visits to jails across Washington and as far away as Ohio and Kentucky in his 23 years with the sheriff’s office, but the county’s current jail has solid sliding doors.

“I think it’s a mental thing,” Long said. “If all you have is a solid door, you could be in any other building. When you have the bars ... It’s getting through people’s heads, ‘You’re in jail.’ ”

The baby blue jail door is one of many touches Long has added to the facility’s design. And when he goes to pick up inmates in other communities, he always makes sure to take a look at the local lockup.

The expanded jail’s footprint was largely influenced by the Cowlitz County jail in Longview, he said. But he also asked questions along the way about what officials would do differently if they were building a new jail.

The $19.5 million project in Pasco is on budget and will be completed a couple of weeks after the March 1 expected finish date, said project manager Larry Hueter.

“I think it’s going really quite well,” he said, praising the contractor, Lydig Construction of Spokane. “The quality of the workmanship is excellent so far.”

Most inmates will be moved in April, after the jail staff settles in. Work will then begin on renovating the adjacent old jail.

The renovated cells in the older section, which will be connected to the new section by a door, are scheduled to open by the end of 2014.

The new jail will be significantly more energy-efficient and add 208 beds, bringing the total capacity to 334. The current jail was designed for 105 inmates, but has held up to 239 and now has 200.

“When you stick that many people who don’t get along together nose to nose, the liability goes up,” Long said.

Renovations are expected to reduce the capacity of the existing part of the jail from 154 beds to 118 beds because the county is making some cells single-occupancy for more violent offenders or inmates with mental health issues.

The project is being paid for by a 30-year, 0.3 percent public safety sales tax approved by city and county voters in 2011.

The county’s share is $16 million, and Pasco is paying $3.5 million for the municipal court section.

New features

Family members no longer will be able to meet with inmates face-to-face when the new jail opens this spring.

They will have to set up an appointment to talk with their loved ones using a video monitor.

The area where people now visit people behind bars will be open only to attorneys, said Long.

“There will be a kiosk with monitors all around, and you can talk to Billy Bob down in the tank,” he said.

Franklin County Commissioner Brad Peck recently suggested cutting off visitation to the jail entirely and instead having people visit with inmates through an Internet connection. But Long said the technology to allow such a program isn’t yet available.

The new jail will have two recreation yards, separated by a cinderblock wall, plus the existing exercise yard in the current jail. Long wants jailers to keep groups who don’t get along apart from each other when they get their daily fresh air, he said.

“You could have two different gang factions,” he said. “You can’t put Crips and Bloods in the same place.”

The yard will not have a basketball court because of the fighting that comes along with that sport, Long said.

“The guys don’t know how to play basketball,” he said. “They play full-contact basketball.”

The laundry, kitchen and pantry areas are all connected, improving ease of flow for getting inmates from one area to another.

The pantry is about three times as large, which will allow the county to buy more food in bulk to save money.

The 16 beds in the jail’s medical area are treated with white antibacterial paint, which Long said will help prevent the spread of disease. Those cells are double occupancy.

The six other pods, or “tanks,” where inmates will spend most of their time will each have eight cells, each with four beds, which are more like small cots attached to the wall like bunk beds. Each tank will have two floors and a staircase.

Corrections officers will be able to walk among the tanks, which are joined together by doors on the upper and lower levels. That’s different from the current jail, where they have to go back downstairs to get to the next tank. This will save officers time, Long said.

“My mantra from the day we started was to be architecturally and technologically smart,” he said.

The walls of each cell are painted white, which makes the room brighter.

“If it’s lit up, we can see it,” he said. “If there’s contraband, we can see it.”

Each tank also will have at least one cell that can be used by disabled inmates.

The corner of the ceiling of each tank is taken up by what looks like mirrors, but it’s actually one-way glass, giving guards in the master control center a panoramic view.

The control room will have a console with touchscreen monitors providing access to 100 cameras in the jail.

Each cell will be visible through the windows in the new master control room. That’s not the case in the existing jail, where some of the cells are down a hall from the control room, and can be seen only on a video monitor. The current master control room will be used as a backup for the new one after the new jail opens and the old one is renovated.

The new master control also will only be accessible from an entrance from an area where no prisoners are allowed. Another officer has to buzz you in. The entrance to the current master control room is by a hallway where inmates regularly walk.

“Master control is the heart of the facility,” Long said. “You don’t want anybody (unauthorized) to get there.”

The new jail also will have a classroom where inmates can attend church services or addiction meetings, read or study the law if they are representing themselves in court, Long said.

As for the light blue color that borders most of the facility’s doors, Long said that’s for the employees. He wanted colors that are bright and “easy on the eyes.”

“The staff works here 365, that’s why I chose this,” he said.

More than just a jail

Outside the jail, two new municipal courtrooms are nearing completion. The base to the judge’s benches are in place.

A major difference between the new courtrooms and the current municipal court is that inmates will be taken to court from the jail without having to mix with the public. They will use a hall open only to jail officials.

The building has an elevator to the sheriff’s administrative offices upstairs.

The sheriff’s office is adding four new staffers because of the expansion. Long said officials will reevaluate the jail’s needs after it opens and could add up to four more workers. It now has a staff of 28.

Technology allows the new jail to get by with fewer corrections officers per inmate than the current jail, which was built in the 1980s using a template required to receive federal grant money, Long said.

“It’s a good, secure facility, it’s just a labor-intensive facility,” Long said of the old jail. “The new building is going to be less labor-intensive — it better be or I’m going to be in trouble.”

Long is pleased that he has been able to influence the building’s design.

“My county has allowed me a lot of latitude as far as what’s done,” he said. “I’ve been really tickled that I’ve been able to have such influence.”

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