Effingham County Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie is hesitant to use the word “nice” to describe a jail.
However, the new county jail under construction will be such an upgrade from the current, crumbling one that he just can’t help himself.
“From where we’re at now … we’re like we’re going into the Taj Mahal,” McDuffie told the Rotary Club of Effingham County on Thursday.
Construction is ahead of schedule and inmates could be moved in as soon as March, McDuffie said. Once that occurs, the sheriff’s office will move to a temporary location while its building is renovated.
The existing jail was built to last 10 years and has been in use for more than 20. However, the new jail going up next-door is expected to last considerably longer.
For starters, McDuffie said, the construction will be much higher-quality. Also, if need be, the facility can be expanded simply by adding jail cell “pods” to one end of the building.
“We could be in this building indefinitely,” McDuffie said. “They’re guaranteeing us the roof is not going to leak and the walls aren’t going to deteriorate and the rust is not going to eat us up. They’re telling us 50 years shouldn’t be a big deal for this building.”
The $16.2 million jail is being funded entirely by special purpose local option sales tax dollars. It will have 204 beds, compared to the current 130.
In addition, the jail will be connected to Effingham County Prison, where the county will be able to house as many as 128 more inmates for a total capacity of 332. The prison’s kitchen and laundry room will be enlarged and shared by the prison and jail, McDuffie said, eliminating the need for the jail to build its own.
Unlike the existing jail, the new one will have an isolation area for combative inmates who need to be separated from the general population. Now, those “problem” inmates often are sent to the jails in Bulloch or Liberty counties where space is available, according to McDuffie.
“By having these cells here, if we’ve got a problem child, we can put him in that cell and 23 hours a day he stays in there,” McDuffie said. “He showers in there, he sleeps in there, he eats in there, he comes out one hour a day to go into the (recreation) yard. That way he can’t be fighting people, he can’t be hurting people — he’s there by himself.”
The new jail also will enable the county to house more female inmates. The current jail has 12 beds for women but consistently has 17-20 female inmates each day, according to the sheriff.
“We have females sleeping on the floor, we have some females (housed) in Screven County,” he said, “so this will help eliminate some of those problems.”
A high-tech feature of the new jail will be video visitation. Jail visitors will speak to inmates from designated rooms using handsets and video monitors, meaning inmates won’t have to leave their cell blocks.
“One of our biggest headaches is trying to get five or six inmates moved over,” McDuffie said, “and you can’t put certain ones with other ones, so you have to pick and choose who can go visit — which extends your visitation periods almost throughout the entire day.”
Along with that time-efficiency, the jail will be more energy-efficient. “Green” features such as low-flow sinks and toilets will save Effingham County taxpayers money in the long run, McDuffie said.
Another cost-saving step was to contract with Jacksonville-based Oldcastle Precast to build the jail walls and cells. Effingham County simply used the same molds the company made for the Chatham County Jail renovation.
“Using the forms that Chatham County had already bought and paid for, we were able to get them to produce our pods and we didn’t have to buy the molds for them,” he said. “We saved several thousand dollars.”
McDuffie closed his presentation by inviting the Rotarians to stop by the new jail site to see the progress.
“We’ll be glad to show it to you,” he said. “We’re like children with a new toy.”