Jail project almost complete

Thursday, July 24, 2008
Barry County Sheriff Mick Epperly points out the features of the 16 new jail cells that are being added to the existing Barry County Jail facility. Each cell, which is designed with numerous security features, will house three prisoners. Total capacity at the jail will increase from 32 to 80 once the expansion project is complete in mid-September.

The logistics of housing a daily average of 51 prisoners in a facility designed for 32 should get a whole lot easier once the Barry County Jail expansion project is completed this fall.

Sheriff Mick Epperly and Jail Administrator Jan Smith provided a tour of the construction project on Friday, one day before contractors poured concrete stairs in both of the new two-story jail pods. Once the stairs are completed, work can begin on erecting a metal roof that will cover both pods and complete the main structural portion of the project.

The roof will be constructed using a total of three layers of sheet rock and one layer of security mesh. A steel beam will connect both pods and secure the entire roof.

"This will be a very secure building," said Epperly.

Each new jail cell includes three beds and a metal toilet and sink. The two new pods will add 48 beds to give the jail a total capacity of 80 prisoners.

One of two new jail pods is pictured above before the roof and stairway are erected. Barry County Sheriff Mick Epperly and Jail Administrator Jan Smith gave a tour of the semi-finished jail expansion project last Friday morning. When the expansion in complete this fall, Barry County will have the ability to house 80 prisoners, which more than doubles its current jail capacity of 32. Democrat Photo

The jail cells are stacked on top of each other and surround an open commons area that will be equipped with four tables. A stairway connects the two stories and a four-foot rail will be erected along the stairs and second floor railing. Security mesh will be installed between the railing and the ceiling for safety reasons.

Each cell will be equipped with a security door that includes a window and a "cuff port," which is a rectangular drawer built into the door. The cuff port allows jailers to cuff prisoners through the drawer if needed. The drawer can also be used to pass items back and forth to the inmate without unlocking the security door.

Two cameras will be placed in each pod to give jailers the ability to monitor inmates from a central control room. Windows have been added to the control room so that jailers can also see into each jail pod. All doors in the jail can be controlled electronically by the jailers.

"They can be opened and closed with the push of a button," said Epperly.

A foreman with Wehr Construction, the contractor hired by the Barry County Commission to complete the jail expansion project, said the new jail space should be ready to be occupied by mid-September. Sheriff Epperly said the county plans to host a public open house at the expanded facility prior to its opening.

Due to the high number of prisoners being housed in Barry County Jail, Smith said she is often forced to put four prisoners to a cell. This is necessitated by the need to house female prisoners separately as well as sex offender and inmates charged with major crimes.

Currently, David Spears and Christopher Collings, the men charged with raping and murdering 9-year-old Rowan Ford, are taking up two cells because the men have to be housed alone and away from each other.

"We're not the only jail experiencing this problem," said Sheriff Epperly. "Almost all jails in the state of Missouri are overflowing. Anytime you have overcrowdedness, there is the potential for more fights, more incidents between inmates."

When the new cells are completed, females will be housed in the oldest section of the jail. Currently, the holding cell is used if there is an overflow of female prisoners, and at times, Smith has been forced to place up to six females in the small cell.

Currently, Smith runs the jail with a staff of eight. Epperly said his department will continue to operate the larger jail facility with existing staff until the end of the year. At that time, he said they will evaluate the situation and most likely request staff additions for the jail in the 2009 budget.

Wehr Construction was awarded a $481,000 bid to complete the jail expansion project. The total project cost stands at around $1 million. The two pre-fabricated jail pods were purchased by the county from Tindall Corp., of Charlotte, N.C., for a total of $472,815.

The Commission was able to save up $800,000 in capital project funds over the past three years to finance the biggest portion of the project. An additional $200,000 was borrowed to complete the project.

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