Jail to get lock upgrades
By By MARY-ALLISON LANCASTER – Managing editor
New improvements at the Escambia County Detention Center, which currently holds 138 inmates, are scheduled to begin soon. One of the major improvements involves replacing all 45 cell unit locks with maximum-security locks that can withstand abuse.
In 1992, $140,000 was spent on refurbishing the locks and control panels. Minimum-security locks were put in place on cell doors, and according to the sheriff, they were “not really designed to withstand abuse.”
PH&J Inc., based out of Montgomery, was the architectural firm contracted to redo the jail. The same company designed the jail in Monroe County. Architect Griffin Harris finished the drawings depicting the new design and the commencement date was Jan. 4. According to the contract with the company installing the locks, among others things, everything must be completed within 90 days.
The main problem at the detention center, Smith said, was the inadequate locks on cell doors that have noticeable wear and tear. The old locks were industrial locks that were “intended for use but not abuse.” Those who tour the jail will notice that there is a sequence of doors you must pass through.
You go through four doors in total; two doors must be passed through before entering into a unit. The doors are medium to maximum security and there have never been any problems with the locks on those doors, Smith said.
The new locks will be upgraded to Institutional Grade locks and hinges that can withstand heavy use and abuse, which, Smith said, makes it “far more difficult for inmates to defeat and damage the locks.”
The new locks will also allow staff to lock the inmates down and keep them in their cell for a period of time. Currently, inmates cannot be locked inside their jail cell, so when damage occurs within the cell, the inmate cannot be held responsible.
According to Smith, sometimes windows get knocked out or fights might occur inside the cells and officers are unable to determine who caused the damage.
With the new system in place, during a lock down, if any damage is found in the cell an inmate will be held responsible for damage.
The architect had initially estimated the cost for the refurbishing to total nearly $500,000. However, the bid specs came out lower and the Escambia County Commission awarded the contract to U.S. Securities Systems, Inc., for the total amount of $359,300.
For several months, the County Commission has been holding an account where $25,000 a month has been deposited. Smith said that the Commission had committed to use those funds to repair the jail.
According to Smith, improvements will also include changing the solid metal cell doors with a slender window to a wire mesh so staff will be able to see through the door, which Smith said he hopes will cut down on fights, suicides or any type of mischievous acts.
Funds will also be used to upgrade the control panels from a mechanical switch button to a touch screen. Currently, Smith said that every time the circuit boards go out, it costs nearly $1,000 to fix the problem.
Smith said that he has to rely on out-of-town technicians to fix the problems, which adds to the cost. The new touch screen software, which can essentially be fixed by a modem, will be owned and controlled by Escambia County.
In case there is an inmate riot - worst case scenario - a third control center will be located in the sheriff's office. It will be password encoded and will be able to control the entire jail from the outside. There are currently two control centers.
To monitor activity, Smith said there are now 32 color cameras that operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When he first took office, there were only 10 cameras, and they were black and white and not all of them worked properly.
Smith said that the new improvements are not a reflection on the prior administration or County Commission. He believes that the prior administration just received bad advice from the architect who originally built the detention center and the new improvements are something that needed to be done in order to create a safer atmosphere for the inmates, officers, staff and the well-being of the citizens.
The completion date for all the improvements has been set for July 3.