By Lori Gottula
Build it, and they will come.
That’s exactly what happened last Friday when the new Richardson County Law Enforcement Center opened its doors for public tours. People came. The center, which is located in the former armory building west of Falls City on highway eight, will house inmates beginning Monday, August 15. But Friday, it was swarmed with law-abiding citizens who wanted to see the facility and its state-of-the-art security technology—technology that will keep the “good guys” safe while serving justice to the “bad guys.”
Tours were granted from three to eight p.m., with five or six groups at a time mingling together in the confines of Richardson County’s new jail and law enforcement offices. Each group had anywhere from six to twenty people who listened intently as Sheriff Don Pounds, a few deputies, two jail supervisors, and even the maintenance man led tours. Jail supervisor, Ivan Taff, did an excellent job during the three o’clock tour.
The new Center, which was built by AHRS of Bern, Kansas, came with a taxpayer price-tag of approximately four-million dollars. But the county apparently had little choice about spending the money. In an interview after one of the tours, Sheriff Pounds stated that
“inspectors with the Jail Standards department (which is part of the U.S. Department of Justice) said that our old jail, which was built in the early 1900s, would no longer pass inspection. We either had to build new or start paying other facilities to house our prisoners.” “Fortunately,” he said, “Our county commissioners had the foresight to build new.”
David Sickel, whose second term as a county commissioner ends this year, was present at the facility tour.
“If we would’ve had one bad situation at the old jail, we could’ve had a lawsuit that would’ve built a new jail, but we still wouldn’t have one,” he said. “Instead, we have a new one.”
That new one will sleep 24 inmates, with the possibility of adding two more. Twelve of the 24 bunks will be occupied by inmates from Sarpy County, which has contracted with Richardson County to house prisoners from its overflow.
“Our contract with Sarpy County will bring in approximately $250,000 per year,” Sheriff Pounds said.
The Center, which is primarily painted in cream, gray, and military green, is divided into halves, with the west half serving as the jail and in-take area, and
the right half serving as office space for county law enforcement, and the state patrol.
The first room on the jail side is the office for dispatchers, also known as the county’s 911 center. There, behind fire-proof doors and shatter-proof glass, is the emergency dispatch, plus the control center for the entire law enforcement building. The electronics include state-of-the-art 911 programs, computerized cameras for the jail, and computer programs that control the doors, water systems, and electricity in the building. Those controls will prevent inmates from flooding their cells in moments of anger, or from opening doors at any time.
The west side also includes a secure entry at the back, where perpetrators exit patrol cars inside the building. The prisoners are then taken to the showers where they are deloused, required to shower, and issued orange jumpsuits and rubber shoes. From there, they are held in holding cells or taken immediately to interview areas where they are questioned to determine security classification—minimum, medium, or maximum. Of the three holding cells, two are used as detox areas for intoxicated prisoners, and one is a “rubber room” for those who are suicidal or homicidal.
Once processed, each inmate is taken to one of six different “pods,” depending on security classification. Each pod contains from one to four cells made of prefabricated steel. The pods also include: one television set mounted on a wall; self-contained, built-in tables with attached seats, (where the inmates will eat and interact); one telephone that can only be used with pre-purchased phone cards, and one video telephone for video communication with visitors (inmates are not allowed to see visitors in person). The cells themselves contain two bunk beds, one toilet, one built-in-table, and a shower.
The jail side of the Law Enforcement Center also features a medical room where prisoners will be allowed to visit with an LPN three days each week, a service that has been contracted so that deputies no longer have to take prisoners to the emergency room for medical issues that are not emergencies. In addition, the jail side houses a small gymnasium where inmates will eventually be able to play basketball. The prisoners will not be allowed outside for security reasons, but all areas of the jail have built-in sunroofs that meet the Jail Standards’ requirement for the amount of sunlight that each prisoner must receive each day. (Sheriff Pounds also stated that all areas of the jail meet the Jail Standards’ requirement for 100% air exchange per hour.)
That describes the west or “exciting side” of the building. The other half, the east side, may be less exciting but also deserves attention because it serves our men and women in blue. That half features the central office for the sheriff’s department, plus updated locker rooms for the 25 county law enforcement employees, office space for the deputies, a separate office for the sheriff, and a conference room where meetings will be held.
According to Sheriff Pounds, the county is currently working on plans for a kitchen in the facility, but the kitchen has not yet been completed.
All-in-all the Richardson County Law Enforcement Center is a step toward progress, built to protect the law-abiding citizens of this area, while serving justice in an environment that is now safe and secure.