Inside these walls: New Sumter County jail short of salaries

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 1, 2004

Inmates in Sumter County should be moving into a brand new jail in approximately four weeks, Sheriff Johnny Hatter said Wednesday.

Work crews will be putting finishing touches on the structure in the next few weeks. The new jail is located behind the Sonic Drive-In and the old hospital, just off Highway 11 in Livingston.

First, the communication system needs to be installed. “We’ve run into a little problem with moving our dispatcher phone equipment and our 911 phone equipment, said Sumter County Commissioner Ronnie Beard. The county commission will accept bids for the communication system at their Monday meeting.

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There will be a period of training for what Hatter believes should be a minimum jail staff of 16. Ronald Proctor will serve as the jail administrator. “The commissioners are trying to come up with the money to make the salaries,” Beard said. “We’ll probably start out with just a skeleton crew, just the minimum we can, to see how this thing is going to operate.

“We don’t know exactly what we’re getting into with operating this new jail,” Beard said. “We’re just going to wade into it easy. If he can’t operate it with a minimum, skeleton crew, then we’ll just have to find a way to get him some help.”

The new jail will house 136 inmates, Hatter said, compared to 53 in the current jail, which is located downtown across from the county courthouse complex.

The current jail was built in 1963. “I can’t get locks to fit it,” the sheriff said. “It’s been patched up over the years….It was already out of date when it was built.”

The new jail was constructed by 2WR-Holmes Wilkins Architects of Montgomery. The county has worked for three years to construct a new jail, the sheriff said.

“We had a lot of various problems with it,” commissioner Beard said. There was a problem with the original construction manager. “It’s really been a challenge.

“…We started out wanting to spend $2.5 million, and saw that we were probably going to have to go to $3 million,” the commissioner said. “Before we get through it will probably wind up costing $4.6 million, but it’s a nice facility.”

The new building was constructed in approximately 18 months, said Mike Rutland, senior vice president with 2WR. The firm, which specializes in detention centers, considers the Livingston jail one of its better projects. “The county spent their money wisely,” he said. “They got the bang for their buck.”

The new jail, termed an “adult local detention facility,” is in compliance with guidelines from the American Correctional Association, Rutland said. The new facility includes 18,826 square feet.

Would the new facility be able to house state or federal prisoners, producing revenue for the county? Hatter has a wait and see attitude regarding that. Commissioner Beard is hopeful the county can house cother prisoners. “We run a census of about 30 to 35 (inmates in the current jail),” Beard said. “…It would be to our advantage to do it. We could keep 134 just as well as we can keep 25 to 30.”

The architects also renovated 5,430 square feet of the former emergency entrance of the old hospital as a new home for the sheriff’s department. The old sheriff’s department building on the courthouse square will still be maintained as an office for the department, Beard said, but the main administration will likely be run out of the new office.

There are video cameras everywhere in the new jail, and there are also cameras in the front loading area which can be closed by sliding steel doors. “When I put somebody in a patrol car, he’s already in jail,” Hatter said. The suspect will not leave the car until he enters the secure loading area.

The cameras in the loading area will hopefully stop fraudulent claims of police brutality, the sheriff said.