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Published: Wednesday, September 11, 2019 @ 2:00 AM
— Montgomery County will spend nearly $500,000 to develop a master plan for improving the county jail, an effort launched after the filing of several lawsuits alleging mistreatment at the facility that have cost the county millions in settlements.
The move also comes after a community board suggested changes, including the possibility of a new jail, an idea that county leaders have said is unlikely.
The county on Tuesday hired HDR, a consulting company headquartered in Omaha, Neb., to develop the master plan.
“This resolution is another step in the right direction to improve our jail facilities so that our jail staff and inmates can enjoy a safe and secure environment,” said Commissioner Debbie Lieberman.
HDR estimates it will take about eight months to do all that is outlined in the agreement the county approved. The plan is scheduled to be complete in April 2020.
Assistant County Administrator Tyler Small said there is a kick-off meeting with HDR this morning to begin the early steps of developing the plan.
The company will use the report created by the Justice Advisory Committee to determine focus areas.
The Justice Advisory Committee was formed in March 2017 by the board of commissioners to review the jail’s practices. It made more than 90 recommendations in February of this year. The committee hired CGL Companies of Lexington, Ky. to assess operations at the jail and report back to the group.
Small said HDR will conduct interviews with various county criminal justice stakeholders and local law enforcement agencies, look at the existing facility and evaluate logistics aspects before submitting its final recommendations. HDR will try to determine the number of beds needed for the county jail in 2020, 2030, 2040 and 2050.
It is “highly unlikely” the county will build a totally new jail after the evaluation is done, Small said. This is all preliminary, he said, but it is likely the county will add on to the existing facility or renovate the existing facility based on whatever HDR recommends.
“We want to use taxpayer dollars in a way that makes sense,” Small said. “(HDR) will look at the bones we already have.”
The need for reinvestment in the county jail comes after at least 14 federal civil lawsuits that allege mistreatment were filed against the jail.
Those lawsuits include one that several former inmates brought forth alleging overcrowding at the jail, but they asked it be dismissed in August. In their motion to dismiss, the plaintiffs in the case, Nicholas Alston, Keith Barber and other unnamed plaintiffs, said they wanted their case dropped because the jail had made “good-faith efforts” to address the overcrowding issues.
Montgomery County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Daryl Wilson said the partnership the sheriff’s office has formed with other departments in the county is “very refreshing.”
“We want to bring everybody to the table to talk about this new jail we’re going to build,” Wilson said. “We want to think outside of the box and cover all four corners.”
In August, the Montgomery County jail settled a federal lawsuit from a man beaten while incarcerated there. Joseph Guglielmo’s suit was settled for $5.6 million.
In total, the county has paid more than $13 million in legal fees and settlements from jail-related suits.
The current jail houses nearly twice as many inmates as it should, the report from the Justice Advisory Committee found.
According to the sheriff’s office, the jail can hold 909 inmates. In 2018, the average number of inmates per day was 807.
The committee also recommended adding 59 additional staff at the jail. The county has added 10 full-time positions at the jail since 2016.
The Montgomery County Jail was built 65 years ago, and the newest addition is now 27 years old.
“I am pleased that the county is moving forward with that plan,” said Dr. Gary LeRoy, co-chair of the Justice Advisory Committee. “That was one of our major recommendations, so I am glad to see that the hard work of our committee was not in vain.”
BY THE NUMBERS:
$13.6 million — amount Montgomery County has paid on settlements, other suits
$493,500 — how much the county will pay HDR to develop the master plan
8 — months it will take for HDR to develop that master plan
65 — how many years ago the original portion of the Montgomery County Jail was built
909 — number of inmates the Montgomery County Jail can hold, according to the sheriff’s office