Adam OrrStaff Writeraorr@jeffersonpost.com
July 15, 2012
Within the next two years, Ashe County Detention Center could lose its biggest “client” - Wilkes County inmates who are worth nearly $400,000 a year to Ashe County.
Since August 2010, overcrowded men’s and women’s jails in Wilkes County have forced law enforcement there to haul their overflow inmates to Ashe County, at a cost of $40 per inmate per day. Over time, those numbers add up.
On July 10, in the single largest payment to date, Wilkes paid Ashe County $60,560 for housing provided its inmates in May, nearly double the average monthly payment of $32,787.33.
Those payments, however, could end as soon as the summer of 2014.
On July 2, the Wilkes County Board of Commissioners approved a new 224 bed jail next to the Wilkes County Courthouse at a cost of $12 million, according to Wilkes County Manager John Yates.
Wilkes commissioners authorized borrowing $11 million to fund the project that is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2013. Hemphill, Randell, and Associates, the same architectural firm that designed the Ashe County Detention Center, estimate 14-18 months to complete the project, according to Yates, which could mean the facility could be operational sometime during the summer or early fall of 2014.
“Wilkes County is our single biggest client,” said Ashe County Sheriff James Williams during an early July interview with the Jefferson Post. On July 10, 65 inmates housed at the AC Detention Center were from Ashe County, with 55 inmates from Wilkes held at the facility, and six inmates apiece were held from Alexander, Alleghany, Caldwell, and Yadkin counties, according to Williams.
Williams said those numbers are fairly average for a typical day.
According to figures released by Wilkes County Finance Director Jerry Shepherd, Wilkes County paid Ashe County $300,068.52 in 2010-2011 to house its inmates, and $454,040 in 2011-2012.
In 23 total payments since August 2010, Wilkes has paid Ashe County a total of $754,108.52, with a per payment average of $32,787.33.
Wilkes County Sheriff Chris Shew said shipping inmates to Ashe County is the cheapest solution his department has at the moment.
“We paid Ashe $60,000 last month, but it’s usually running between $40,000 and $50,000,” said Shew. “That’s really our cheapest alternative. We are simply out of room. Our jail is 40 years old, and we’re just trying to keep it together. Every time there’s an inspection, there’s so many problems.”
Shew said a separate detention facility to house Wilkes’ female inmates, which requires additional detention staff, adds an extra burden.
“It’s literally twice the problems,” said Shew.
Shew said Wilkes County had 137 inmates on July 10, but only had room for a total of 90.
“That’s 47 imates that simply had to go somewhere else,” said Shew.
The project plan approved by Wilkes Commissioners includes 38,500 square feet of floor space that will house 128 beds, 64 double occupancy cells, 80 dormitory beds, and 16 beds in individual isolation cells.
The new Wilkes jail would likely mean it would no longer send its inmates to be housed in Jefferson, and could even compete for extra inmates from counties that already send their inmates to the Ashe County Detention Center.
Wilkesboro is closer to Alexander, Caldwell, and Yadkin counties, counties that already house their extra inmates in Ashe.
Yates, though, doesn’t think the facility will compete with Ashe County.
“I just don’t think we’re going to have a lot of space to house extra inmates,” said Yates, though Shew disagreed the facility wouldn’t have enough space.
“If we had it today, with the pretrial release program currently in place, we would have space to hold inmates from other counties,” said Shew. “We’d be participating in the program right now, but we just don’t have the beds.”
Shew agreed, though, the new jail wouldn’t likely compete with the AC Detention Center.
“There’s been several times James (Williams) has called us and said, ‘We can’t accept any more inmates,” said Shew with a laugh. “We had to look for other alternatives. I’ve known James a long time, and he’s always worked great with us. I think he’ll keep that place full.”
According to Yates, plans for the new jail are basically finalized, though they still need to be approved by the Local Government Commission, and the construction bidding process still remains.
“Besides that, though, we don’t see any other roadblocks to the plan,” said Yates.