By Troy Foster
>Six months after Sheriff's Office administrators move to new facility, the inmates finally follow
Some local residents have a new home but that doesn't necessarily mean they're excited about it.
The new Jefferson County Jail opened its doors for the first time to inmates last week, completing a Sheriff's Department move that has taken more than eight months.
With the 152-bed facility, county law enforcement officers will now have the ability to keep more potential criminals off the streets.
The Sheriff's Department and the jail were formerly located in the basement of the county court house in an facility that was built to hold 16 inmates, but was regularly stuffed with 34.
Often times, some facing charges would have to be released when the jail was full -- and it was up to members of the penal system to determine which inmates wouldn't pose a threat when let go.
"First and foremost, this brings the capability of keeping them in custody after they are arrested until their cases are resolved," said Lt. Tony Lewis, the jail manager.
The Sheriff's Department moved its administrative offices to the new building at 675 N.W. Cherry Lane west of Highway 26 last January. However, the county's dispatch center and the inmates were not quick to follow due to budgeting issues.
County voters passed a jail-operating levy during the last election cycle, but the Sheriff's Department didn't begin to see that money until the 2001-02 fiscal year began in July.
When the funds finally rolled in, a number of new staff members had to be trained before the inmates could be transferred last week.
"We didn't know how busy this was going to be," said Cpt. Greg Partin. "Right now we're just trying to get everybody acclimated."
Rick Hilton, a newly-hired corrections technician who controls the flow of inmates and guards through the facility's many doors, said the county is big on community policing and he was honored to be a part of it.
"It's been going well," Hilton said. "We're getting the bugs out and we believe this is going to be a great service to Jefferson County.
Although the facility was built to better serve the county's long-term incarceration needs, the jail won't operate near capacity for the time being.
Currently, 32 inmates are detained at the facility, including four from Crook County, which rents 12 beds. The jail is only prepared to hold 65-70 inmates at current staffing levels.
Lewis said that the facility might be prepared to hold more in the next fiscal year. "Hopefully in July we'll be able to add staff to get us up to 80 or 85 inmates," he said.
The 37,000-square foot building was approved by voters in a 1998 bond measure. An operating levy was twice defeated before a third one before voters was approved last November, which cost property taxpayers 91 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.
There are even some indications that the inmates appreciate their new digs.
"They seem to be adapting very well," Lewis said. "Of course they've got a lot more room and are not as crowded in."