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Commissioners: No funding for jail project

County Commissioners may be in the “baby stages” of planning a new facility for the Pike County Jail, but without funding, the future is still uncertain, Commission Chairman Jimmy Barron said.

At Monday’s work session, commission members agreed to listen to jail architect Jim Langford, who gave a presentation highlighting the costs and benefits of constructing a new jail in Pike County. The current jail is the second oldest in the state, Barron said.

County Administrator Harry Sanders said Langford asked to speak at the session because he knew how old the jail was.

“They knew our jail was built in the 1950s,” Sanders said.

When asked by Commissioner Oren Fannin, Langford estimated that a new jail with room for 200 inmates would cost somewhere between $7.5 million and $11 million.

Langford also opened the possibility of building a new jail from an existing building.

His company, Southbuild Team, has renovated a Wal-Mart and a hospital in other states to function as jails, Langford said at the work session.

Barron said the session gave him some interesting ideas. It also made him consider whether some unused local structures might be useful for jail space.

“It’s something I’ve had on my mind that we needed to do,” Barron said.

At the time, however, the question of funding and staffing halts any immediate plans, he said.

“We don’t have that kind of money, and we’ve got to look at a way to fund it and staff it,” he said. “We’re getting ideas of what we’re doing and what we need to do.”

Sanders said Sheriff Thomas and the Pike County Police Department have done an exemplary job with the current facilities.

“Public safety is one of the primary concerns of the county government,” he said. “I think [Sheriff Thomas and the police force] have done an outstanding job with what they have.”

Sheriff Russell Thomas said supports the commission members in their plans.

“I support whatever the county commission does,” he said.

As for the Pike County Jail, it will be business as usual, with or without a new facility.

“We’re going to leave the light on and we’re going to be open 24/7,” Thomas said.