Since the workhouse at the Coffee County Jail was closed several months ago, Coffee County Sheriff’s Department has cut expenses and reduced staffing issues at the main jail facility, according to Capt. Frank Watkins with the sheriff’s department.
The inmate work program, which was formerly operated out of the workhouse is now administered out of the main facility and the number of participating inmates has increased since the move, according to Watkins.
Discussion about closing the workhouse, also known as the annex, first arose last spring, when Coffee County Mayor Gary Cordell said he was considering the move during a political forum in early April hosted by The Manchester Times and Thunder Radio in advance of the primary. The annex was officially closed shortly after Sheriff Chad Partin took on his position Sept. 1.
After the renovations to the building in 2017, which came with a price tag of $90,000, the annex had capacity for 36 beds and needed 13 corrections officers to stay in operation.
It was used for the work program, which allows male inmates to work for Coffee County and Manchester City departments. The program also cuts the time inmates have to spend behind bars – for each day an inmate participates in the work program, two days are shaved off his sentence.
When discussions about closing the annex began Steve Graves, who was the county sheriff at the time, voiced concerns about potential problems the move might cause.
At that time, Graves said a work program couldn’t be administered out of the main jail. Additionally, he was worried about overcrowding the main facility because the jail population there often exceeded its 400-bed capacity.
The work program
is still in place
“We shut the workhouse down, but we are still able to maintain the program from the main facility,” Watkins said. “The program is continuing and about 30 inmates are going out to work to their assigned locations.”
One Graves’ fears about the work program being administered out of the main jail was related to the potential for inmates who were released to work bringing contraband back into the jail with them. According to Graves, it would be challenging to keep the workers in a separate area at the main facility.
Having the workers with other inmates would lead to intimidation and violence, he said, because the inmates who do not leave the jail often try to make those who do leave the facility bring in contraband.
However, that has not been a problem, said Watkins. Those participating in the work program stay at a segregated area at the jail.
“We have them at a pod where they don’t mix with other jail population,” Watkins said.
When the annex was closed, the 13 corrections officers assigned to the annex moved to the main facility.
“They help with the needs we have at the jail, such as taking trips, taking inmates to doctor’s appointments, and just with rudimentary jobs we have here, such as doing video arraignments, classifications and moving inmates from cell to cell,” Watkins said. “Having more manpower here at the jail makes it much safer.”
Even though they are held in a separate pod, the sheriff’s department has to remain vigilant about “staying on top of it” and performing thorough searches when inmates return from their work assignments.
“We do catch some minor things, tobacco and things like that,” Watkins said.
Depending on the severity of the infraction, inmates are reprimanded for attempting to break the rules.
“They can be pulled off their work detail,” he said.
They lose the privilege to participate in the work program and have two days off their sentence for each day of work. Those attempting to bring in contraband can also lose the credits they’ve already earned.
One of the steps in the process of avoiding contraband is “nothing comes in, nothing goes out,” said Watkins.
“Whenever they go in, the only things they can bring in is what they left with, and that would basically be just their clothes, shoes and things like that,” he said. “They are not able to bring anything with them, bags, magazines, any other items.
“We just have to maintain good searching techniques when we search their clothes and to make sure they are not hiding any items in the clothes, sewed in, or even secreted up into their body. We try to do spot checks on that and having people X-rayed to make sure they never know when we are going to do a spot check.”
No major incidents related to contraband have occurred since closing the annex, according to Watkins.
Jail population down
For the last several months, the jail population has been less than 350 inmates. This week, it has averaged at about 320.
With fewer people behind bars, overcrowding has not been an issue, said Watkins.
More inmates participating
When the work program was operated from the annex, fewer than 20 inmates took part, on average.
“We have more workers now,” Watkins said. “Administering the program from the main facility allows us to have more inmates participate in the program. We have a larger population to pick from, where before we were having to take people over to the annex. We now have the ability to work as many as we have available.”
Currently, there are more than 30 inmates in the work program.
They help Manchester City, Coffee County Highway Department, Coffee County Rural Solid Waste and Manchester Housing Authority in Manchester, according to Watkins.
rural solid waste
Four inmates work Monday through Friday at the Coffee County Rural Solid Waste Department.
“We run the litter grant program and the [inmates] pick litter off the rural county roads,” said Rennie Bell, director of the department. “They also keep the convenience centers picked up, and on Thursdays we use them for tire storage collection.”
“On Thursday, we take an average of 800 to 1,000 tires, and that’s big truck tires, tractor tires and passenger tires,” Bell said.
Closing the annex has not impacted the operation, said Bell.
“It has run as smoothly as it has ever run,” Bell said.
Elena Cawley can be reached by email at email@example.com.