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Franklin County's expanded jail facility up and running

Franklin County's expanded jail building is open for business, though a few finishing touches are still to come.

Inmates have been moved into the newly built portion of the Franklin County Justice Center, and others are back in the renovated old jail.

Crews removed construction fences that surrounded the facility. North Fifth Avenue behind the jail, where trailers were set up to oversee construction, has been reopened to traffic for the first time since March 2013.

The jail has reached "substantial completion," but won't be fully wrapped up until offices are moved into the renovated part of the courthouse building that the sheriff's office has vacated for its newer digs in the jail building, said Larry Hueter, who is managing the $19.5 million jail project for the county.

The information services department is expected to be in that freed-up space by the end of the year.

County Commission Chairman Bob Koch praised the job Hueter, who will stay on until the project is complete, has done.

"We had a good project manager," he said. "He kept everything running nice and smooth."

The expanded jail holds up to 334 prisoners, up from 105 before work began. It typically has 190 to 200 inmates. Built larger than needed to handle future population growth, Sheriff Richard Lathim said the jail could contract with other jurisdictions to house inmates in the shorter term.

"We might look at that down the road, but the main thing right now is making sure everything is working right," he said.

Inmates in street clothes now wait for court hearings in two dormitory-style holding cells, housing up to 14 and 10 people each. The holding cells were included in the renovation because inmates previously had to go to cells in the general population, then be shuffled back and forth to give their fingerprints, get weighed and have mugshots taken.

"A lot of people that come in are released after they go to court or are bailed out," Lathim said.

The area also includes a room where law enforcement officers can give suspects Breathalyzer tests before they are brought into the jail, which makes the process easier, Lathim said.

Corrections officers moved out of the control room in the old jail, which now serves as a backup to the new facility's master control. The new control room has floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking all seven of the new jail's pods or "tanks." Six of the pods have eight cells, each with four beds. A medical area has eight double-occupancy cells.

Officers in the control room also see what's going on in the old jail, as well as in courtrooms, with 10 video monitors, each of which can display four images at a time from the justice center's more than 200 security cameras.

"It's a lot nicer," said Sgt. Arnold Boothe, who looked over the inmates Thursday afternoon.

Inmates can't see the officers in the control room.

"If you're down in the cell block, the light is reduced so it looks like a mirror," Lathim said. "They can't see back up here."

The county plans to add video monitors in the future that will allow family members to visit inmates without having to bring them out of their pod.

The new 10,000-square-foot sheriff's office on the second floor of the justice center has improved audio and video systems in its interview room. It also features upgraded evidence, records and firearms rooms, as well as a workout room.

No grand opening ceremony is planned for the facility. But Commissioner Rick Miller was pleased to learn about a shiny plaque, which has his name and those of fellow commissioners Koch and Brad Peck, as well as Lathim's, near the door to the justice center.

"That's probably the most rewarding thing about the job," Miller said. "It's just neat to be part of the history of the county."

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom

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