By Sandi Latimer
Work has begun on a county jail that will provide inmates with skills and opportunities to help make them good neighbors when they get out.
Franklin County commissioners, Sheriff Dallas Baldwin and partners ceremoniously broke ground Nov. 6 on a 24-acre tract at 2551 Fisher Road on the Westside. The group donned hard hats and turned a shovel of fill dirt in a box under a tent in front of the acreage lightly flooded by torrential rains several hours earlier.
“When I ran for sheriff, the commissioners promised me a new jail,” said Baldwin. “Well, here we are.”
Commission President John O’Grady said it was time to replace the downtown facilities.
The first phase of the $175 million project will have 870 beds and provide programs and services leading to better behavior outcomes and reduced recidivism.
“If you don’t give them (inmates) opportunities, they will come back,” said Commissioner Marilyn Brown. “If we have a revolving door, then we haven’t done our job.”
This jail will be built in housing units or pods, ranging from 34 to 68 beds per unit. These will contain space for orientation, and mental health, behavioral, and medical treatments in a maximum-security setting. The first phase should be finished by December 2019 and the rest by spring of 2020. The building will have space for up to 2,800 beds.
Also included will be kitchen and food service, a laundry, medical clinic, vehicle sally port for secure detainee transports, visitation and public spaces, a warehouse and staff wellness and support spaces.
When completed, as many as 800 people will be working there.
“Imagine 800 people who will be providing meals for their families,” said Commissioner Kevin Boyce.
This jail is designed to utilize a new objective classification system that would allow staff to sort inmates based on their risk and by the services they may require. Currently inmates are housed based on the nature of the crime for which they are charged. Baldwin says this is not always the best classification system.
“Effective rehabilitation of inmates means doing things differently to help prevent them returning,” Baldwin said.
He is also supportive of the project because Columbus will host the American Jail Association conference in 2021.
The jail is being built with proceeds of a quarter-cent sales tax enacted in 2013.