News

HC Jail construction slow, steady

Winter weather creates some delays during construction

GTNS photo by Grace King

Sheriff Rich McNamee stands in what will be jail control and dispatch at the new Henry County Jail on South Grand Avenue. The dispatch center will be a mezzanine, and the floor of the dispatch center will be built up so the windows are at waste-height. Jail staff will be able to view all cells from the dispatch center.
GTNS photo by Grace King Sheriff Rich McNamee stands in what will be jail control and dispatch at the new Henry County Jail on South Grand Avenue. The dispatch center will be a mezzanine, and the floor of the dispatch center will be built up so the windows are at waste-height. Jail staff will be able to view all cells from the dispatch center.
/

It was Jarrod Krabill’s first day working on the site of the new Henry County Jail on South Grand Avenue on Tuesday, Feb. 5.

Krabill was busy caulking door frames for the administration portion of the new jail, which is fully enclosed and almost ready to paint.

“It is neat to see this place go from the ground up,” said Krabill, who works for Precision Coatings. “It’s something Mt. Pleasant has needed for a while. It’s going to be a great place.”

Krabill’s uncle, Ken Krabill, was the sheriff of Henry County from 1997 to 2004, and hired current Sheriff Rich McNamee as a deputy for the department.

McNamee told Krabill that Ken, who passed away, would be proud of him and proud of the project.

“It would be really neat for him to see this place,” Krabill agreed.

Construction of the new Henry County Jail is a remarkable feat for McNamee, who worked to make the dream a reality since he took office in 2013.

McNamee visits the jail at least once a week to see how construction is progressing. He said he feels overwhelmed by it.

“This space is hard to grasp,” McNamee said.

At a Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 29, McNamee said two more deputies and six more jail staff were needed for the department and jail facility for the fiscal year 2020.

Supervisors approved the salaries for two full-time jailers and two part-time jailers for the Sheriff’s Department budget. They did not approve salaries for any deputies.

There will be a public hearing on Feb. 26, at 10 a.m. for final budget approval.

The Henry County Sheriff’s Office receives 67 calls of service per deputy a month. A decade ago, they were receiving 25 calls of service per deputy a month. Adding two deputies would still make the average call per month per deputy 56, McNamee said in a board of supervisors meeting.

The Henry County Jail staff will be moving from a facility that houses up to eight detainees to a facility that can house 96. McNamee said while the efficiencies of the new facility are unknown, more staff still is needed in order to run it.

Making progress

Blake Hansen, with Midwest Construction Consultants, said that the project is going well so far.

“I’m looking forward to handing it over to the sheriff,” Hansen said.

Levi Downer, with Myers Construction and the job site supervisor, said the Henry County Jail is the first jail he’s ever helped construct.

Downer said construction has been challenging because of the cold and wet weather. He is on his second pair of rubber boots this year, which typically lasts him three to four years.

The current jail at 106 E. Clay Street in Mt. Pleasant is a three-cell facility with a maximum capacity of eight prisoners. The jail population ranges from the teens to mid-30s, forcing Henry County to house inmates in neighboring county jails, the cost of which is upward of $30,000 a month.

With the new facility, McNamee has time and time again said they will soon have other counties paying them to house their detainees.

A grand tour

The booking and holding area is awaiting concrete pours and roofing. The current jail does not have a booking area. It will have a wing for women and a wing for men, who have to be kept separately.

The Henry County Jail will have a four-stall garage where vehicles transporting detainees will park, so the only time detainees will leave the jail after arriving will be for a court order or an emergency like a fire, McNamee said.

To the right of the facility will someday be a kitchen. The kitchen won’t be finished until it’s needed by the jail. Currently, the jail receives food from Hy-Vee and they are exploring entering into an agreement to get their food from the Mt. Pleasant Correctional Facility.

The jail has a separate holding area for minimum security detainees and a room for special status detainees that has negative air flow. Jail control and dispatch will be surrounded by the other cells in a mezzanine fashion. The majority of cells will be viewable from the control center.

“It’s important for safety and security because there’s less of a chance of them doing something to themselves or other inmates,” McNamee said. “This is the most efficient jail concept you can have.”

The exercise area has a large window with a garage door to let in natural air and sunlight and an 18-foot-high ceiling.

“That’s a huge deal, but it’s really simplistic,” McNamee said. “It’s the biggest perk to our new building other than the size.

The family visiting room will have six kiosks where family members and detainees can speak through closed-circuit TV.

The jail will have small-evidence storage and another facility for bigger evidence like cars. The larger-storage facility is about the size of the current Henry County Jail, McNamee said.

Administration

There are 10 cubicles for deputies in a room four times the size of the deputies’ offices in the current jail. Bigger bathrooms and locker rooms and the a mothering room (for breast-feeding) are just some other amenities to the new jail.

The jail will have two interrogation rooms. In the current jail, there is one interrogation room that also serves as a booking, visiting room and has about “10 other functions,” McNamee said.

“We improvise a lot,” McNamee said of the current interrogation room. Detainees are often held in a deputy’s or sheriff’s office if the interrogation room is already occupied. McNamee said having two designated interrogation rooms will add to the safety of the jail because any time suspects can be separated is preferred.

The lobby of the jail can get busy, especially on visitation days on Wednesdays and Saturdays. McNamee said 15 to 20 people can be waiting in the lobby to speak with a detainee. The lobby in the new jail is a lot larger and has a skylight, making it more comfortable for visitors.

In the current jail, the employee break room serves as a copy room and is occasionally used for secondary prisoners.

“It can get really crowded in there,” McNamee said.

The new jail also has a consultation room off the foyer where deputies can speak with victims or witnesses of violence in private.

The new break room is large enough for up to 40 people and will be used for training. Trainings are now held at Emergency Management, the courthouse or the police department and often have to be rescheduled because they conflict with other events happening in those buildings, McNamee said.

“We won’t have to travel, borrow space and schedule around other department’s schedules,” McNamee said.

A groundbreaking for the jail was held in May 2018. Construction is expected to be completed this October.