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Sullivan County commissioners tour new $3.4 million county jail

April 16th, 2007 11:51 pm by J. H. Osborne

BLOUNTVILLE - If you make your way into Sullivan County's new jail facility don't expect privacy - or Peking duck.

An open floor plan won't allow the first. And even though state-of-the-art ovens at the jail include a setting for the latter, Sheriff Wayne Anderson says the fowl won't likely be served up to those running afoul of the law in Sullivan County.

"We don't fix too much Peking duck," Anderson said Monday as Sullivan County commissioners toured the new jail. "We probably won't fix it at all."

Designed to ease overcrowding at the county's current jail, the new facility will house up to 240 inmates in a minimum- and medium-security setting.

Completed earlier this year at a cost of about $3.4 million, it is scheduled to open May 1.

It will operate in addition to the current county jail at an estimated cost of about $1.2 million per year - money that will have to be included in the county's budget year beginning July 1.

Anderson will host an open house of the new facility from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. Saturday for the public, and he said he hopes a lot of the county's taxpayers will come see what they got for their money - and he hopes they'll bring their kids.

The current, main county jail is designed to house 383 inmates. But it has often housed hundreds more - as many as 677 as recently as December 2005.

On Monday, there were 564 inmates in the county jail.

The new 33,000-square-foot facility includes:

•Eight large "bays" with 28 beds each for prisoners. Impact-resistant glass walls divide the units, giving two central guard stations a clear view of the building from one end to the other.

All areas used by inmates in these areas are within view of the guard stations - including toilets and showers.

"There's not a lot of privacy," Anderson said. "But it is an all-male facility. And they choose to come here - we don't force anybody to be a member."

•Three single "holding cells."

•A 16-bed bay for jail trusties.

•A visitation area with room for up to eight prisoners to talk to visitors - and a separate room for attorney-client consultations.

•A medical room.

•A complete kitchen to make the facility self-sufficient for food service - three meals a day for all inmates housed there, with inmates providing food preparation labor under supervision of cooks hired by the sheriff's department.

They'll be using Rational SelfCooking Centers - which can bake, roast, steam, blanch, poach and more, all in a single unit. And they're self-cleaning. They were chosen for use in the new jail because they are easily programmed to produce the same result over and over again, and a lot of food can be prepared in less time and with less waste of food, commissioners were told during Monday's tour, which included lunch.

John Palombo, of Rational USA, used the occasion to show jail staff how to use the equipment. Among many features pointed out by Palombo was the ability to display instructions in more than 30 languages, and the capability to use a computer memory card to track all sorts of information about usage - such as temperature settings.

•A laundry room.

•A property room with storage space for each inmate's personal items - checked until they are released.

•An "exercise yard."

•And a chapel, which Anderson said will be furnished to look just like any other little church by the time inmates attend worship services for the first time at the new facility. Already in place Monday were pews and an inspirational mural on one wall.

Designed and painted by a former inmate who is now an artist and ordained minister, the mural features a representation of Christ offering hope to a figure wearing the signature orange-and-white-striped garb of a Sullivan County inmate - along with two messages: "For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" and "Mercy triumphs over judgment."

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