Work on a $3.3 million expansion to Warren County’s jail space will probably wrap up in mid-October, Sheriff Kevin Harrison said this week.
The county has been engaged in a project to add about 50 beds to its jail capacity since 2018. The work involves converting former offices of the sheriff’s department at the Warren County Courthouse into new inmate housing.
The first step of relocating the sheriff’s department was completed in early 2019. New offices for law enforcement were built in the courthouse basement, where deputies now operate.
In their former office space, below Warren County’s existing jail, crews are building two large dormitories, a unit of five small isolation cells, and two padded observation rooms.
Before the housing units took shape, Harrison said contractors first had to install a huge amount of ventilation ducts, plumbing and electrical wiring.
“That was the first couple months,” Harrison observed. “I’m sure I’m exaggerating, but there’s miles of wires and cables and all of the pipes and duct work ... and all of the security electronics. There’s just a lot behind the scenes.”
Most recently, Harrison said builders carried in modular steel panels and welded them into place to form secure walls and ceilings for the inmate housing. They then filled the space between the steel walls with concrete.
The welding is nearly done, to be followed by completion of flooring, doors, security glass and cameras. Harrison said the predicted completion time is about five weeks. Equipment and debris will be cleared from the front of the courthouse before the Warrenton Fall Festival Sept. 28.
The expansion of jail space within the county courthouse was approved last year as a means of addressing inmate overcrowding. The growing population in Warren County, trends in crime, and housing federal prisoners led the jail to frequently exceed its intended capacity.
The sheriff’s department expects that just reducing crowding will create inherent improvements to inmate behavior when interacting with jail staff.
“More bedding space will help us loosen up on how confined we are right now with triple-bunking. We’ll have more space to space them out, which leads to less tension in the (housing) pods,” explained Lt. Eric Schleuter, the sheriff department’s jail supervisor. “The upgrades are much needed, much appreciated.”
With the new housing units, Harrison said jail staff will be able to separate inmates based on behavior and risk. Those who are always cooperative can be placed in the new dormitories, where they’ll have more open space and freedom of movement within the unit. Inmates who frequently cause trouble will be moved to the smaller isolation cells, where they can’t rile up large groups.
Other utility improvements have come to existing parts of the jail at the same time they were being designed into the new sections. Electronic shutoff valves were installed in all existing and new plumbing to prevent inmates from flooding the jail, which used to be a frequent problem. Floor drains were also added to make cleanup easier after such an occurrence.
“We’re trying to learn from our experience of what we’ve got with our existing jail, to improve upon that,” the sheriff said.
Upgraded and added security cameras also have been installed throughout the jail and courthouse building.
Harrison said the final project completion is about a month behind initial projections, simply due to periodic delays in the construction process. Several of the more specialized contractor teams, for things such as security technology, are based out of state, which introduces more chance for delays, the sheriff said.
Once the new sections of the jail are open, Harrison wants to rotate inmates out of the existing housing units in order to systematically deep clean and restore them to new condition. It’s an opportunity he said the sheriff’s department hasn’t had since the current jail was opened in 1997.