Prisoners to be transferred in November

Published 1:25 pm Monday, October 20, 2008

Jesse McWilliams recalled a cold night when he and Captain Al McKee walked the short distance between the courthouse and county jail faced with yet another problem in the dilapidated old facility.

A leak had sprung, flooding the floor with freezing water, and both McWilliams, the commission chairman and, McKee, the jail administrator, were exasperated. Problems at the jail sprung up daily, from brawling inmates, to overcrowding, to lack of sufficient heating. There was even a federal lawsuit in 1996 citing the jail’s deplorable conditions.

“We both made a commitment right there we were going to see a new jail built in Butler County,” said McWilliams.

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Long years of waiting finally came to an end on Sunday as county officials welcomed the public to a open house for the new $6 million Butler County Correctional Facility.

Commissioners first started discussing building a new jail in 1992, said McWilliams. A referendum allowed the commission to collect $45 from all court costs, which the county used to save over $1.8 million to help fund costs for a new jail.

While the new jail doesn’t have everything the commission had hoped to include in its original concept, the building is “a whole lot better than the old one was,” said former sheriff Diane Harris.

“It’s a fantastic facility,” said Harris, who served three terms as sheriff.

Sheriff Kenny Harden said he expects the county will move prisoners into the new early in November. First, he said, the 11 correctional officers on staff will need to undergo training to familiarize themselves with the new surroundings, which – unlike the old jail – features an array of electronic locking mechanisms, a state-of-the-art security system and the ability to lockdown prisoners.

The old jail’s only electronic lock was at the front gate. The cells were opened by key and correctional staff had to be on constant guard because of narrow catwalks that were within reach of any prisoner.

While security concerns will lessen, McKee said there is still an extensive amount of work ahead before the facility is ready in November.

“I have my policies and procedures in place, but it’s just a matter of getting everything implemented with the staff we have,” he said.

Harden said the correctional facility is something the county can be proud of. He applauded commissioners past and present, including the current administration, which includes McWilliams, Frank Hickman, Glenn King, Jerry Hartin and the late Daniel Robinson.

“They could have sat on the money the county had saved, but they picked up the ball and ran with it,” he said.