New Wake detention center stresses savings and safety

tgoldsmith@newsobserver.com May 1, 2012 

  • Adding up the new jail 3,500 inmate capacity when built out 1,088 inmate capacity at facility opening 56 number of inmates in a cell block 30 minutes, the goal to get arresting officers back on the street after bringing in a suspect 30 years in Wake County criminal justice plan 4 single-cell blocks 8 dormitory-style cell blocks 1 medical director 2 physician assistants Wake County Sheriff’s Office
  • Tying the knot, Jailhouse Rock-style Couples who’d like to marry after business hours or on the weekend can get it done at the new county detention center. Almost uniformly white, gray and black, the place should feel a bit brighter when after-hours weddings are offered. “The magistrates can have a wedding anywhere,” said Dave Goodwin, director of General Services for Wake County. Magistrates at the downtown Public Safety Center have performed weddings before and will continue to do so, Goodwin said, but most are moving to Hammond Road. Weddings will be scheduled from 5-10:30 p.m. weekdays, and from 10:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. weekends and holidays. For more information, visit bit.ly/IoUSOr. Staff writer Thomas Goldsmith

— Wake County’s new detention center on Hammond Road offers more security for officers and arrestees, high-tech means for communication between jail and courthouse, and savings of more than $30 million in construction costs.

The $151 million structure, all 400,000-square feet-plus of it, was built during the construction downturn, allowing taxpayers to save more than 15 percent on the project.

The opening of the detention center is a “major shift” for law and order operations in Wake County, Lorrin Freeman, clerk of superior court, said.

“Any new arrestees will be taken there,” Freeman said. “If you’ve been in our magistrates’ space, it has not kept up with the growth. You can barely hear one over another.”

The new detention center is the latest phase in the expansion of the county’s criminal justice facilities. A new downtown Criminal Justice Center, including courtrooms and county offices, is scheduled to open in the spring of 2013.

With the county population projected to double, at least, by 2030, the center’s inmate capacity could be expanded from more than 1,000 to more than 3,000.

“Intake today handles 36,000 arrests a year,” Freeman said. “This is sized at 80,000 a year.”

Larry Wood, chief of staff of the Sheriff’s Office, and detention director Dail Butler pointed out the room for expansion during a tour of the center. Higher-security inmates will remain at the downtown Public Safety Center. The detention center will have room for 1,088 inmates, Wood said.

There are 86 video visitation units in a room off the airy front lobby, more than are currently needed. People who want to visit inmates can make advance appointments. Visitors are directed to a specific video unit as an inmate is brought to a similar device on the cell block. The process cuts down on the significant costs and logistics involved with transporting a prisoner from the block to a visitors area.

“It is largely a security matter,” Freeman said. “Any time you are not having to move arrestees, you are cutting down on risk.”

Judges, defense attorneys and prosecutors will also communicate with inmates via video screens, but protections are built into the process, Wake officials said. For one thing, the inmate can see the entire scene in the court where his or her alleged crime and potential punishment are being discussed.

“The person has to be able to see every thing that’s going on in the courtroom,” Freeman said. “He has to be able to pick up a secured line and speak to an attorney, if there is an attorney there on his behalf.”

Private talks still possible

Wake County Chief Public Defender Bryan Collins said officials of the detention center will continue to provide space for private talks between attorneys and inmates.

“My attorneys are quite sensitive to the potential breeches of confidentiality that can occur with the video system, and so it is our policy to meet with clients in person when discussing confidential information and to only use the video to convey short, non-confidential messages such as changes in court dates,” Collins said in an email.

Building for future needs also took place with the kitchen, medical and laundry operations. Stacks of clean, striped inmate suits stand ready for the opening of the center.

“We currently use inmate labor in the laundry and will continue to do so,” Wood said.

Meals will be prepared by the hundreds, both for inmates at Hammond Road and those downtown, Butler said

“It will be transported in heated carts,” he said.

Do-it-yourself kiosks

Another labor-saving aspect is the presence of kiosks on cellblocks at which inmates can sign up for medical care, see their account balances, order from the canteen and check court dates. All formerly required staff time to accomplish.

Metal tables, televisions and phones await inmates in the facility’s 12 cellblocks. Of those, four have individual cells, and eight are dormitory style. Where an inmate stays is based on his or her behavior.

Between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., inmates are locked in. At this facility, they are either serving sentences of 120 days or less, or awaiting trial.

Overall, the center appears to offer protection and convenience to both inmates and staff, housing sheriff’s staff, court representatives and the City/County Bureau of Identification.

There are certainly no “country club” amenities, and it’s difficult to imagine anyone’s being there by choice.

But some who arrive at Hammond Road in a few weeks may be there for years, waiting for their day in court.

“If you’ve got a capital charge, it will take a while,” Butler said.

Goldsmith: 919-829-8929

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