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    Infamous 'Escape-proof jail' decommissioned

    By Ryan Kelly,


    Transitioning from the old Surry County detention center to the new one took place some time ago and last week the board of commissioners and the Surry County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) took action to close the book on the long and storied history of what is now called the Judicial Center Annex.

    The board voted unanimously to draft a letter to state inspectors that signifies the former jail complex will no longer be used for any housing of inmates. but rather for office space and storage. Inmates will, however, still move through the old facility on their way to appearances in court.

    A request from SCSO was to repurpose some of the space in the old facility for storage and to house the new pre-trial release program that is now being administered by SCSO.

    “As you are aware, the addition of the Pre-Trial Release Program to the Sheriff’s Office necessitates additional office space. SCSO is already experiencing a shortage of office space,” the request from Sheriff Steve C. Hiatt states.

    “SCSO has discussed the matter with County Management and the County Facilities Director and have developed a plan to create the needed office space for the Pre-Trial Release Program. This plan would also enhance our current operations for transferring inmates from the detention facility to the courthouse,” he wrote.

    The plan to implement the change will involve minimal costs to the county according to the sheriff, “Facilities Director Jessica Montgomery has informed us that the necessary funds are available within the current budget, and no additional approval of funds is required.”

    Major Scott Hudson explained, “Lt. Randy Shelton and Pre-Trial Release will look to utilize the old booking area when you come into the old courthouse. We have spoken to Facilities, and it should be very minimal costs.

    Also, we came up with a way we can arrange for inmates to come in and go through the elevator or stairs to reach the judicial center coming in through the old sally port.”

    Chair Van Tucker asked, “At what point do we have to decommission the old jail in order to be able to designate part of this for office space? We’re doing a pretty healthy business at the new jail and from all reports it seems to be running really smooth.”

    “Now we’re always slow when we move into a new house, and we got an old one on the back of the farm, to turn off the porch light and decide we’re not going to live there anymore for good. That’s what we’ve been with old jail until we got into the new one and saw what needs we were going to have,” he said.

    There had been all sorts of talk about what to do with the old jail including even using the space for federal inmates; those plans are no longer under consideration. Tucker asked, “Have you come to the conclusion that you have all the facilities that you need for the near and foreseeable future?”

    Hudson said that for the detention center that was an accurate assessment. He was informed, via Shelton’s conversation with the state, “We can’t offer anything inside the old jail. If we do we will fail inspection. If we maintain the old jail then you have to staff it, if you have one inmate you have to staff it and you’re going to have to make rounds and have someone in the control room and medical and meals.”

    “I am adamantly opposed to keeping the jail open and staffing it and feeding people. For heaven’s sake, that’s why we built a new $40 million jail,” Commissioner Eddie Harris observed.

    “It’s my understanding that all the inspectors need is a letter from me and management saying we no longer want to use it as a detention center. That is our recommendation,” Sheriff Hiatt said.

    Vice Chair Mark Marion said everyone seemed to be moving in the same direction on the matter and made a motion to draft the letter to the state informing them of the change; Harris seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.

    County Manager Chris Knopf reminded the board that the budget already contains funding for a study of SCSO office space needs and what may be available to them. “One of the requests in the budget process was for funds to study the 2002 jail, sheriff’s office, and the 1974 jail for future use. Those funds are not in the budget, but there is funding available in other funds for that,” he advised.

    In a tour of the new facility in January, Shelton pointed out a piece of land attached to the detention center that is graded and stands ready to receive future construction should the sheriff’s office still be eyeing such a move.

    In other board news,

    - Surry County Public Works Director Jessica Montgomery sought approval to reallocate funds already approved for her department for another use. She had requested a fuel truck for use at the landfill and was approved for such in the amount of $100,000. She said after months of research she found costs on fuel trucks were “going for a lot more than we wanted to spend.” Members of her staff worked hard and were able to make repairs to the ailing fuel truck and return it to working order.

    She was granted approval to use those funds for the fuel truck to instead buy a truck to replace an older one used at the landfill to move trailers on-site. It is very unsafe to operate she said as the drive shaft has come out and there is too much rust to repair it. The board was happy to hear that the truck she now wants will cost far less than the budgeted amount, and the difference will be returned to the general fund.

    - The Surry County Board of Commissioners scheduled their final budget planning sessions for Tuesday, June 11. At that meeting the board will discuss the presentation from Surry County Manager Chris Knopf made at the last board meeting where he outlined a proposed budget for the next fiscal year.

    At the board’s next regular meeting on June 17, the final presentation on the budget will be made which will be followed by a vote by the commissioners on the county’s next operating budget.

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