by Becky Purser

FORT VALLEY — Peach County Sheriff Terry Deese joked with those touring the jail Tuesday that they had just left the “old dungeon” and were about to enter the “castle.”

The castle is a new 116-bed expansion of the Peach County Law Enforcement Center, part of a $9.8 million expansion and renovation project funded by two separate special purpose local option sales tax measures.

Deese likened the old section of the jail, which will undergo renovation once inmates are moved into the new section over the next few days, as an old “Andy Griffith” type facility with iron bars — referring to the popular situation comedy in the 1960s in which actor Griffith portrayed a fictional small-town sheriff.

Deese used the example to contrast the older section of the jail to the state-of-the-art, indirect supervision jail pod that is monitored from a second-story, enclosed tower. The cell doors, lights, TV, phones and intercom of the new pod are all monitored through a touch screen system from the tower. Jail administrators can see the inmates from the tower but the inmates cannot see the administrators.

The old section of the jail, which includes 64 beds and was built in 1988, will be renovated and become a similar state-of-the-art pod.

The jail expansion and renovation was initiated at a time when the jail population was exceeding its capacity by 20 or more inmates a day, which cost the county about $45 per inmate per day to house in other facilities across the state, Deese said.

The jail population has since dropped to an average of about 60 inmates per day, Deese said.

He said he is not certain why the number of inmates has dropped, though he speculated it may have something to do with judges realizing the dire straits the county was in when its daily jail population reached 100 per day.

The chief problem the county experienced was dealing with issues arising from classification of inmates, such as not housing a minimum security prisoner with a maximum security prisoner. In other words, jail administrators don’t want a person accused of drunken driving to be housed in the same area as someone accused of murder.

The expansion and renovation creates additional beds and day rooms to provide a better mix of the classifications to meet the county’s jail population needs for at least 20 years based on current projections, Deese said.

Peach County Commissioner Roy Lewis was among commissioners, prosecutors, a judge and others touring the jail Tuesday.

“Nobody likes spending money on a new jail,” Lewis said. “It’s one of those necessary things we have to do sometimes.”

The expanded and renovated jail will save money over the long term because it is more costly to house inmates elsewhere, Lewis noted.

The $9.8 million price tag was split, $9 million from a 2008 SPLOST and $800,000 from a 2004 SPLOST, County Administrator Marcia Johnson said.

The bulk of the funds were used for construction, said Mark Massee of Fitzgerald-based Massee Builders Inc., the jail contractor. The remainder was used for design fees, furnishings and a new building to house investigators, he said.

Architect Rusty McCall of Valdosta-based McCall & Associates designed the expansion and renovation project. He noted that indirect supervision is much less expensive because it requires fewer people to man than direct supervision, which calls for a jail administrator within each day area.


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