Expansion possible for top-notch local jail

By Brittany Wise bwise@civitasmedia.com

March 4, 2014

The county will soon be receiving quotes for the construction of a new “pod” onto the Grayson County Detention Center’s main facility on Shaw Station Road.

A motion was approved during the Feb. 21 Fiscal Court meeting to look into the cost of building on a wing to house female inmates, who are currently lodged in a separate facility in the old judicial building on East White Oak Street.

Magistrate Harold Johnson explained that this arrangement would allow for the county to sell the old judicial building. The building also currently houses the office of Commonwealth Attorney David Williams, whose staff would need to be relocated as well.

Adding a new pod onto the main jail facility would cost less than building a new, separate structure, Logsdon said, thanks to the fact that the existing kitchen and laundry room - costly facilities to construct - could serve both the male and female inmate population.

The GCDC is currently the only completely self-supporting detention center in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

“We pay our own way and then some,” said Jailer Darwin Dennison recently. “I think most people would be shocked if they knew just how much the [GCDC] contributes, both monetarily and in manpower and services, to the good of county government and our community.”

While stringent financial planning and hard work have been important to the detention center’s successes, the facility depends in large part on contracts with agencies like the US Marshalls, ICE, the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the State of Kentucky.

Dennison called these contracts, “the bread-and-butter of our operation” and said that the relationships his staff has developed with these agencies are what make it possible to stay self-sufficient and to contribute to the county.

“They trust us to operate in the proper way. We continue to provide a great service that no one in this part of the country can match.” Dennison said, “This detention center would not be able to function as it does now without those relationships in place.”

Dennison also pointed out that the GCDC is not only holding its own - it continues to expand and lead the state in other areas as well.

Late last year, the agency became the first in the state to become a part of the National Videoconferencing Bridge - a federal system that allows judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, investigators and others to conduct court business and interviews over a secure videoconferencing link.

This measure helps to prevent unnecessary transports of prisoners outside of secure facilities, and federal authorities hope to expand this capability throughout the country, according to a recent press release from the GCDC.

Other recent upgrades at the facility include upgraded video surveillance systems and a transition to a secure, paperless system.

Even with such upgrades completed, and a dedication to paying its own operating costs and construction bond, the detention center has been able to significantly increase its savings to $1.5 million - an amount which would cover months of operational costs in the event of a short-term disruption such as a natural disaster or government shutdown.

“When I came into office, there was $300,000 in the bank to cover costs in the first couple of months,” Dennison said. “Those were lean times. But now we have a cushion that can carry us through for a couple of months if something unexpected happens. Other counties do not have that advantage.”

Should the GCDC lose its federal contracts or burn through its current funding cushion, the county would be responsible for the facility’s $700,000 per year bond in addition to operational costs, salaries, insurance and other expenses, Dennison explained.

This creates an important relationship in which the county cares for the detention facility and the GCDC provides one-of-a-kind support to our local county government.