New technology finds a place among proven design features.
Cherokee County Chief Deputy Mike Malone and his transition team traveled to more than 25 direct-supervision jails in the Southeast, borrowing concepts for a new $35 million public safety facility serving the Atlanta suburbs. According to Malone, the carefully planned project is a far cry from the existing jail, which was built with barely any forethought.
"The county didn’t do any planning or projecting," says Malone of the previous lockup. Though the 15-year-old structure hardly qualified as old, the indirect-supervision facility might have well been built 30 years ago. Efficiency seemed almost an afterthought, and recurring maintenance problems included a ventilation system that failed to exchange air at rates considered healthy.
With only 125 beds, the old jail was quickly doomed to obsolescence in the face of county’s steadily growing population. "We literally were full the day we moved in and went downhill from there," Malone says. Planning for the new 512-bed facility would begin by consulting the National Institute of Corrections to take advantage of its Planning of New Institutions (PONI) program.
Equipped with a PONI boilerplate, Cherokee County hired The Facility Group to provide projections and assess needs. Officials were impressed when the Atlanta-based company met their deadlines, and would later hire the company to provide turnkey design-build management services-a first for a Georgia jail-made possible by newly revised state laws for the delivery of government projects.
Turnkey delivery gave Cherokee County Public Safety Facility planners flexibility to adapt as opportunities arose. When a jail bond measure in a neighboring county failed, Cherokee officials quickly expanded the project to take overflow inmates from outside the county line. And, when new wireless technologies became available, planners moved to incorporate hand-held devices for jail management.
Owner: Cherokee County Board of Commissioners
Completed in November 2002, under budget and seven days ahead of schedule, the 125,000-square-foot public safety facility accommodates sheriff’s offices and a 911 call center, as well as the headquarters for both fire safety and emergency management. Because Cherokee County is in tornado country, the 911 center was built underground to maintain operation under even the worst conditions.
The facility’s courtroom is expected to be in use two to three times a day to save on inmate transport costs. The court also is wired to provide camera feed, giving sheriff’s officials more control over media coverage through the use of one pool camera that all television news stations can access-a feature that already was used for a recent high-profile homicide case.
In the jail component there are all-new support facilities operating off a central spine that can be easily extended to accommodate future expansion of as many as 500 beds, which is likely to be needed within the next decade. "We tried to incorporate things that worked," Chief Malone says.
What has drawn most attention to the project is the use of the Personal Digital Assistant (PDA), hand-held devices now being adapted for jail management. This wireless technology is ideally suited for direct supervision, allowing officers to manage inmates and lock or release cell doors from wherever they are standing within the unit.
The PDA tells an officer which inmate is in which cell when an inmate actives the cell intercom. Instantly, the officer can tell the inmate how much they have in their commissary account or provide information on their visitation status. The WatchTour barcode function helps officers record times as they make their rounds. And, if the need arose, an officer could turn off water, lights, and phones-essentially shutting down the unit.
Several companies make PDAs, but the Symbol’s PPT-2800 was chosen for its durability and because it has a built-in radio transmitter and barcode scanner. "If an inmate approaches the officer and says he has a doctor’s appointment at 10 o’clock, the officer can scan the inmate’s wrist band," explains Bill Echols, project manager for The Facility Group. "They pull up the information and they can say, ‘No, you don’t have an appointment until tomorrow.’"
Hand-held jail management technology wasn’t available when the company gave the county a Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) in June 2000. But planners readily adjusted their plans to incorporate the new technology after seeing a product presentation by Montgomery Technology Inc. (MTI), a subcontractor to the CCC Group, the contractor for both security electronics and detention equipment.
According to Terry Mullens at MTI, any jail with an Ethernet already has the backbone for the system, needing only to add access points with small antennas to receive the PDA signal. The PDAs themselves cost about $2,300 each, and come with a spare battery and charger. And, if the county so chooses, the system also is capable of being integrated with records systems stretching all the way to the courthouse. Two PDAs were purchased for the facility’s 27-bed medical unit.
|Raised booking counters maximize officers’ views of the intake waiting area. The different colored chairs distinguish detainee status and help non- English speaking inmates find designated areas.|
While the hand-held touchscreens are wireless, they share the wired network with stationary touchscreens in control rooms. One control station is situated above two dayrooms, and management functions are handled there at overnight.
Echols notes they were able to install the PDA system in Cherokee County without exceeding the GMP. Another advantage offered by the PDA was that it was comparable in cost to a hard panel, but came with security advantages.
PDAs are not viewed as an increased escape risk because they offer no more opportunity than a hard panel. In a worst-case scenario, an inmate in possession of a PDA could at best open the housing pod door, but would still be unable to open doors to leave the secure area.
"If an inmate acts up and can damage a hard panel, that unit is out of business for three weeks until the hard panel is rebuilt," says Echols. "If for some reason an inmate gets hold of a PDA and stomps on it, you still have to replace it, but the officer can walk out and get a spare unit and within a matter of minutes is back in control of that housing unit."
The Cherokee County Public Safety Facility is the first jail in Georgia to be built with turnkey services for design-build management, made possible under a newly-revised state law that freed government agencies from the traditional bidding process.
Because Cherokee County is tornado country, the 911 call center is built below ground.
The timing of the law’s passage was perfect, given that Cherokee County wanted to stay with The Facility Group after the firm provided needs assessment. Integrating planning, design, and construction services, the company is structured with six business units, one of which is the Justice Business Unit, where Echols works. "We, in turn, contract with our internal facility construction management arm, so that we, as the business unit, are really the program managers for the delivery of the project," he says.
Echols knows that when many people hear the term "turnkey," they think they won’t get premium design services because the process is led by the contractor. In response, Echols says his company provides a GMP before design is complete, and that the trade contractors must still bid competitively. "The only difference is that the trade contractors contract with us, and at the end of the project, the savings for the competitive bid is returned to the county," says Echols. "If there’s an overrun, we pay for it out of our fee."
Turnkey services also allow fine tuning as the project develops, with no squabbling between the architect and contractor because they work for the same company. For example, the county initially hoped to begin the expandable facility with more than 500 beds, but that number was reduced to 384 to allocate funds for other needs. Then, in 2002, a bond referendum for a new jail in Forsyth County failed, and Cherokee County officials jumped at the opportunity to house overflow inmates; the removed beds were quickly put back in the building program.
Now, more than 100 of Cherokee’s 512 beds are currently occupied by inmates from other counties at $35 per day per prisoner. "We estimate that, at the rate they’re charging for beds, within the next three years they will have the additional dorm paid for," says Echols.
Everything that was different from the original plans laid out in June 2000 stemmed from opportunities the client was eager to seize upon, and county officials regard the project’s few change orders as contract adjustments. After putting up with a septic sewer system at their old jail, Sheriff Roger Garrison and Chief Malone welcomed a change order for a new $3.3 million waste treatment system.
Echols, Malone, and Sheriff Garrison believe their experience was worth sharing, and will make a presentation on their approach to design and construction at this summer’s American Correctional Association conference in Nashville, Tennessee.
Mix & Match
Echols attributes much of the project’s success to the close working relationship with Chief Malone. Echols praises Chief Malone’s "willingness to horse trade" on every detail, right down to the placement of cameras and power outlets, and says that their regular discussions were a major factor in coming in under budget.
Precast Concrete Cells: Tindall
911 Communications System: Motorola
Kitchen Shelving: Kelmax
Malone, in turn, says going through Phase I and II of the PONI program prepared him for the development process, and that made him a better client to The Facility Group. Knowing he had to be specific about what he wanted, Malone took a camera with him to the many direct-supervision facilities he visited.
"I took pictures of what I liked," he says. "Staff that were with me were asking questions of the officers working in these facilities. Not necessarily the lieutenants and captains, but also the ‘grunts.’"
The team learned, for instance, that the trend of combining the sallyports for inmate transport and intake was fading. A few years ago, this setup was seen as an effective labor-saving measure, but security proved more critical than cost considerations. Newer jail projects place these two functions on opposite sides of the facility. "You do have two areas you need to monitor, but crossover is no longer a problem for us."
Though transport and intake are separated, both areas touch on the property room. Planners from The Facility Group advised that conveyors commonly used in property storage can be prone to maintenance problems, and recommended movable shelving for high-density storage.
For both added security and reduced manpower, deliveries can be unloaded from the dock through either the kitchen, where inmates work, or through the warehouse, which inmates can access only through the kitchen. Thus, dry storage and refrigeration become areas where officers don’t have to monitor inmates while receiving deliveries.
The intake waiting area was another facility component the transition team was interested in seeing on their jail tours. At one facility, they saw a sunken detainee lobby. At another, officers were provided with elevated sightlines with a raised booking counter. Malone asked for both components to maximize officer views of the intake area.
A jail in South Carolina offered ideas in color coding. Chairs in the intake area, where inmates view orientation videos, are colored aqua and gray to better distinguish detainee status. "We also lettered and colored the housing area. We have a fair-sized Hispanic population, and some don’t speak English fluently, but they can follow colors, and it eliminated labor in having someone giving direction," says Malone.
In a way, the Cherokee County public safety facility is an outgrowth of all the direct-supervision facilities the transition team visited. Officials in other counties were extremely open in sharing their successes, as well as their mistakes. When the transition team saw an impressive covered sallyport at a jail in Florida, they thought they had seen all they needed to until they learned the port had one small problem.
"When they brought their inmates from their old jail to their new facility, the bus raised up in height after they unloaded the inmates, so they had to let the air out of the tires to get the bus out," laughs Malone. "That was a vivid lesson."