Harrison OK’d to apply for new building, jail

CADIZ — Harrison County could get a new sheriff’s department and jail — for free.

Harrison County commissioners authorized county Sheriff Joe Myers to sign any and all applications and agreements needed to acquire another building for the purpose of a proposed law enforcement center and jail.

Myers asked commissioners for their approval during Wednesday’s meeting. He said he would like to acquire the SSG George J. Conaway U.S. Army Reserve Center for the law enforcement building and jail.

“I think the Army Reserve building is an ideal building and location for a public safety center for Harrison County,” Myers said.

With the sheriff’s department looking to acquire this building at no cost to the county, commissioners unanimously approved Myers’ authorization to complete paperwork.

Myers said the department is overwhelmed because of the current jail’s age, space constraints and conditions. He said the jail population in Harrison County is up because of an ever-growing influx of transient workers and those who travel to or through the area for gas and oil drilling, pipeline projects and subsidiary businesses.

The Harrison County Sheriff’s Department and Jail was built in 1925. The building is one of the oldest remaining jails in use, said Myers. It is a two-story structure in which half was formerly used as the sheriff’s residence. The jail does not meet federal disability requirements and the two-story floor plan impedes monitoring and tracking of inmates, he said.

A boiler heats the building, which does not have central air conditioning nor a sprinkler system. Myers said the reason the building has never been renovated is that a 2014 feasibility study deemed the renovation and expansion of the existing building not fiscally responsible because of compliance issues, efficiency, renovation costs and expansion limits.

The building can hold only eight males and is always at capacity. According to Myers, male offenders with higher crimes, females and juveniles have to be housed at other facilities, which accrues more costs. Myers also said 20 percent of prisoners in 2017 were female, which meant 47 percent of the sheriff’s budget was spent on out-of-county transportation and housing.

“Deputies spend hours transporting prisoners instead of patrolling the county,” he said.

Myers said the acquisition of the Army Reserve property would provide practical and efficient renovation for a modern and compliant public safety center. The options for renovation include padded cells, medical segregation, video arraignment and visitation, vehicle sally port, outdoor recreation area, property storage, program classrooms, administration and dispatch.

Myers said that although the location of the current jail is ideally right next to the courthouse, the minimal transportation costs incurred to the new location, which is approximately 1 mile, would be offset by the savings of video arraignments and the reduction of out-of-county housing expenses.