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Top honors again for Effingham Prison
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Ronald Spears, warden of Effingham County Prison, shows off the award for the County Correctional Institute of Excellence from the state Department of Corrections. - photo by Photo by Paul Floeckher

For the second time in three years, Effingham County Prison has been recognized as the best prison in the state.

The Georgia Department of Corrections honored the prison as its 2012 County Correctional Institute of Excellence. Effingham County Prison also won the 2010 award.

“It just shows that a good, hard-working group of people have come together to enforce the rules and regulations,” Warden Ronald Spears said. “Sometimes in society our job is not seen as a good thing, but even though you think nobody sees what you do as good, it’s being seen and recognized.”

County prisons submit an application for the award, Spears said. The judging criteria include results of inspections and audits to determine the prison’s security, safety, cleanliness and compliance with Georgia Department of Corrections policies.

Effingham County Prison conducts inspections every weekday, Spears said. Inmates follow a rigid routine of waking up at 5 a.m., having breakfast at 5:30 and starting their work details by 7:15, and the inspections follow.

“Inmates know what they’re supposed to do, and staff knows what they’re supposed to do,” Spears said. “Even on the outside (work) detail, we ride out and check the detail sites and make sure that the inmates are there working and being productive.”

The strict schedule helps give the prisoners the discipline they need to re-enter society, Spears said. Effingham County Prison inmates serve sentences for non-violent crimes such as burglary, drug possession, driving under the influence and passing bad checks, and their average stay is one to five years, according to Spears.

Effingham County Prison opened in 2001. It has 250 beds and currently houses 192 state inmates.

The prison provides inmate labor to Effingham County and its cities, which helps save taxpayer dollars. Some of the inmates work at the prison itself — as cleaners, barbers or as kitchen or laundry workers — but most perform maintenance jobs off the prison grounds, including with the city governments of Springfield, Rincon and Guyton and at the local Georgia State Patrol post.

“They’re everywhere,” Spears said. “Every inmate here has a detail — 192 inmates, 192 workers.”

What makes the prison run smoothly, Spears said, is an environment of mutual respect between the inmates and prison staff.  Inmates must have their shirt tails tucked in when they leave their dormitory, address staff as “sir” and “ma’am” and keep their hands behind their back when they speak to staff members.

“Respect goes a long way. They give us the respect, we give them the respect,” Spears said. “They have rules to follow. Follow them, and you go home.”

Spears accepted the 2012 County Correctional Institute of Excellence award last month at the Georgia Department of Corrections’ annual awards ceremony. When he returned to Effingham, Spears presented the trophy to his staff of 48 people.

“I told them, ‘Don’t ever stop what you’re doing,’” Spears said. “We want to be the best. We want to make sure that we’re doing the things that we’re supposed to be doing.”