Proposed jail site’s proximity to school questioned

Published 10:19 pm Friday, March 15, 2019

As Pike County officials consider the location for a new jail, some residents are concerned that one site places the facility too close to schools and residential areas.

The Dunbar site – located in the area of the existing Dunbar neighborhood which is slated for closure by the federal government – is about a mile from Troy Elementary School. It is one of six sites being considered for the jail.

Sonny Kirkpatrick, who also lives in the area, spoke out about his concerns during a public hearing hosted by TCU Consulting Services.

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“I live about a mile from the Dunbar site,” Kirkpatrick said. “Take away my house and neighbors out of it though. There would be a maximum-security jail a mile from the kindergarten, from the elementary school. No matter how well we make that maximum security, eventually – God forbid – there will be a mistake, and we’re giving them access to our children. I think it’s a bad idea.”

The proposed Dunbar site is about a mile drive from Troy Elementary but only about 2,300 feet in straight-line distance.

For comparison, the current jail is about 1.3 miles from the elementary school and approximately 1.2 miles from Charles Henderson Middle School.

TCU Cofounder Ken Upchurch said there are always concerns about the area directly around a jail whenever these conversations are held.

“Most city and county jails are in the middle of the populations,” Upchurch said. “The current jail is less than a quarter of a mile from some of the nicest houses in Troy. I can’t think of a jail more than 10 or 12 years old that isn’t near a population center; most county jails in the county seat. They’re not remote”

There is no law or regulation in Alabama dictating how close a jail can be to a school.  “The current county jail in Montgomery is across the street from one of the finest magnet middle schools in that area,” Upchurch said.  “Those kids don’t have a playground, and they actually walk around the jail for exercise.”

Upchurch said the new jail would be more secure than the current facility, which has not had an escape in at least 30 years. “That jail has been there 60 years,” Upchurch said. “If anybody is going to break out of something it would be that jail.”

Upchurch said having the jail closer to the school could actually be a benefit with increased law enforcement presence in the area.

Upchurch said the proximity to the school is one of the criteria on an evaluation matrix that the county will use to evaluate the pros and cons of each potential site.

The Dunbar Drive site is only one of at least six sites that the commission is considering for the new jail. The commission also has discussed locating the jail on property already owned by the county at the Pike County Road Department.

The remining sites have not been disclosed to the public as officials seek to negotiate a deal on whichever property they purchase.

The commission has already decided to build the jail at a new site, ruling out the possibility of building the new facility at the current jail site.