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W.Va. jail designed for safety

October 15, 1998

 

Eastern Regional JailBy DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Jerry Detrick and Clyde Moser walked through the Eastern Panhandle's new jail Wednesday, pointing out a barbershop, law library, and dentist and doctors' offices.

Workers are building an expansive gymnasium, and there will be six outdoor recreation yards, enough room to give female and male inmates their own exercise areas.

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"Hey, we've even got a baptismal bath," said Detrick, administrator of the current Eastern Regional Jail.

There may have been complaints about jails doing too much for inmates, but you won't convince Moser or Detrick of that.

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The busier correctional officers can keep inmates, whether it's exercising, attending religious services or reading, the calmer things will be, they said.

"Idle time is danger in a prison," said Moser, a superintendent with Perini Construction in Hagerstown, the general contractor that has been hired to help build the $20 million complex.

Officials broke ground on the new regional jail in January. The facility, which will use the most modern security design available, is being built behind the existing regional jail along W.Va. 9, just east of Martinsburg.

State officials began opening regional jails nine years ago to replace smaller county jails. The Eastern Regional Jail was the first regional jail in the state, opening on May 1, 1989. In less than nine years it is over capacity.

It is common to have up to 270 inmates in the jail on weekends, forcing jail officials to put some prisoners on the floor on mattresses.

Such situations worry jail administrators. It's OK to put three people in a cell for two or three days, but much longer than that and tempers can start to flare, said Detrick.

"It's just a keg of dynamite," said Detrick. "The growth, it happened so quickly."

The new jail will be able to hold 300 inmates, and possibly up to 500 if officials decide to double-bunk cells, said Moser.

But extra capacity is just part of the story behind the new jail. Officials say the complex is a well-designed jail that will reduce the need to move large numbers of prisoners at one time, ensuring safety, and it meets all the needs of correctional workers and inmates.

A dozen inmate visitation cells line a wall just inside the main entrance. There are only three visitation cells in the existing jail, and visitors often must wait in line outside to see inmates, said Detrick.

The kitchen is double the size of the current jail kitchen and there are conference rooms where inmates can meet with their attorneys. The gym, measuring 65 feet by 90 feet, will offer basketball and volleyball and will be beneficial when inmates cannot go outside to exercise because of bad weather, officials said.

Up the hall from the attorney conference rooms is a chapel, complete with a stage for a pulpit. Jail officials currently allow inmates to have religious services in a classroom at the existing jail, but it can be cumbersome accommodating everybody and their different denominations, said Detrick.

"It's terrible on Sunday," said Detrick.

In the old jail, all plumbing, electrical lines and other utilities running to the "pods" where inmates will be held will be under the floor. The utilities will run through underground tunnels, which are accessible only through openings on the outside of the pods.

The design allows maintenance workers to enter the utility area and not be forced to work near inmates, said Moser.

"I worked in a prison and I can tell you this is a secure jail. It's an administrator's dream to run one of these," said Moser.

Moser worked for 22 years as a supervisor at the Maryland Correctional Institute in Hagerstown before joining Perini Construction 10 years ago.

Detrick said having someone build a jail who understands how they have to be designed has been a great advantage to local officials.

Moser said the jail could be ready to take its first inmate by next spring. Officials have not decided what to do with the existing jail, said Detrick.

The new jail will employ about 100 people. About 78 people work at the current jail, Detrick said.

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