Justice Center completion weeks away

Published 4:10 pm Saturday, July 24, 2010

The cells are in place, the locks are ready and cameras are streaming images of the empty jail. Now, jail staff are shifting their focus to training before making the move to Mower County’s new jail.

With the courts slated for a mid-September move, sheriff Terese Amazi and jail administrator Bob Roche are aiming to move to the new jail and justice center by the end of October. However, Roche said the move could come in November because they are slightly behind on hiring jailers and training jail staff.

“Once we get our staffing up to par, we’re ready to hit the ground running,” Roche said.

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Construction on the jail and justice center is just weeks from completion. Currently, workers are going through a punch list at the jail and justice center to mark any defects, like scratches, chipped paint or broken outlets.

“We’re getting down to the last few details and that’s when you notice all the little things,” Roche said.

The jail will have a staff of 31.6 with about 26.6 people charged with operating the jail and five administrative positions. On top of the original 14 staff people making the move from the old jail, an additional ten jailers have been hired so far.

After a two to three week academy to learn basic skills, the new jailers go to the county’s jail to train with a field training officer to earn their certification.

In the next few months, all the jailers will travel to jails in counties like Freeborn, Goodhue and Steele for training.

“We’re getting to the point where we need to start sending staff out,” Roche said.

Once the jail is fully complete, Roche said staff needs to be trained in the building for at least three months.

“We’ve got to get cracking,” he said. “You can see how the timeline gets real short. For an average stage, three months is a long time. For us right now, three months — wooh — we’re in a full out sprint.”

The old jail was built in 1966, and Roche said it’s outdated for 2010. Part of that training will focus on operating the new technology in the building. All the jailers will be trained to operate the master control station.

In main control, a panel of six flat-screen computer monitors are on, showing the various cameras throughout the jail, even though inmates are months from using the facility. The station will be one of the key ways that staff time is reduced in the jail. Prisoners never leave the jail facility, even for recreational time because there’s a small gym and recreational space within each of the three jail units. All of the doors in the jail can be locked and unlocked from main control.

Despite the training and work required, Roche and his staff typically agree the move will be worth the effort.

“We feel pretty dang good about it,” Roche said. “We think it’s good.”

“This is a good facility,” Roche said. “It’s very efficient. It’s good. … Both myself and my staff are very excited.”

The current jail has only one door, so all the prisoners, deliveries visitors — everything — passes through that one door.

“Right now, everything we do is through one door, so right now that door is like Minneapolis during rush hour all day long,” Roche said.

The new jail is equipped with a secure garage for booking and dropping off inmates. Administrators can enter the jail on the south side of the building near the main control booth and maneuver securely through the jail in a center hallway. There’s also a loading dock specifically for food deliveries.

“One thing we’re all excited about is the efficiency,” Roche said.

The new jail will be much larger than the current jail, and the county will no longer have to pay to board inmates at other facilities. The current jail has an operational capacity of about 32 inmates.

“Over there, it’s tight,” Roche said.

Each of the three units in the new jail will surpass that total. The two special management units will have 40 beds. The general population unit will have 48 beds.

Space likely won’t be a problem in the new jail. The jail is large enough to offer flexibility as the inmate population grows and changes. If there is a population increase in one group, like work release prisoners, then inmates can be moved within the two special management pods.

Likewise, the jail is built with room to add new jail units to the north. The booking, laundry, visitation and kitchen areas are all built large enough to accommodate any potential expansions.

“It’s going to be just phenomenal, just phenomenal,” Roche said.