"This is a continuation of the community outreach the county has been doing for more than two years" to explain the need for a new prison, County Commissioner Bob Thomas said. "There's dozens and dozens of reasons for a new prison."
When the prison opened in 1973, replacing a jail that dated to the early 19th century, it was designed for about 100 inmates. During its first 14 years, the prison operated comfortably below or just slightly above the design capacity, according to Wetzel's monthly report.
A sharp rise in population began in the late 1980s, forcing the county in 1992 to build a work release annex at a cost of approximately $2 million. Wetzel said the annex, which had 119 male and 39 female inmates last week, has not aged well.
"The life expectancy of a modular building like that is about five years," Wetzel said Sunday from Phoenix, where he is attending a conference on prison construction.
"You'd be hard-pressed to put someone in a bed with water dripping on them like the Chinese water torture," Wetzel said of the leaking roof at the annex.
The county's average daily inmate population has risen from 64 in 1973 to 355, according to the monthly report, although the two buildings were designed to hold fewer than 200 prisoners.
In recent years, the county has sought to reduce overcrowding with sentencing alternatives, including electronic monitoring, house arrest and housing inmates in other counties. The latter option, however, is expensive, Wetzel said.
Sending an inmate to another county costs about $60 a day and in recent months, the number of inmates serving their sentences in other jails has averaged 20 to 25, Wetzel said. Each inmate at another jail costs the county $1,800 a month, he said.
The prison also lacks enough secure cells for dangerous or suicidal inmates and was built before the Americans with Disabilities Act, said Wetzel. The result is more corrections officers to handle inmates with special needs, he said.
"The new prison will be designed with efficiency in mind" that will save money in the long run, Thomas said.
The county also plans to open a day reporting center late this year to prevent overcrowding at the new prison.