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12:04 PM Fri, Feb. 22nd

New jail will be no vacation for 'guests'

JC AMBERLYN/Miner<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->Sheriff Tom Sheahan (left) and several employees inside a surveillance area, where many locations are monitored in and around the jail.

JC AMBERLYN/Miner<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->Sheriff Tom Sheahan (left) and several employees inside a surveillance area, where many locations are monitored in and around the jail.

KINGMAN - Despite its $72 million price tag, the new Mohave County Detention Facility wasn't built with the amenities of a comfortable hotel or even some of the newer schools nowadays.

There is no weight room, no gymnasium hall or media room to pass the time. Inmates brought in on alcohol-related offenses can't even implore officers for a strong cup of joe once their hangovers kick in.

"There is no coffee, no cigarettes," said Sheriff Tom Sheahan. "We don't have basketball or weights. This is intended as a jail, and that's the way we're going to run it."

It's not clear the exact date when inmates will be moved from the current jail on Pine Street behind the Mohave Superior Court building to the new facilities off of Beale Street behind the County Administration building, but it should be by Dec.1, Sheahan said. All inmates are expected to be moved within a 24-hour period.

The new 226,000-square-foot jail has 688 beds and is shelled for twice as many more when needed.

Sheahan said the building was designed to last at least 50 years, in contrast to the old jail, which was built in 1986 based on what the county could afford, not what was needed.

The jail, which held around 75 inmates, used to be housed in the basement of the courthouse until an inmate sued the county in 1984 because of the conditions.

Sheahan, who served as the jail's director in 1986, said the Pine Street facility was hastily built to hold no more than 200 inmates, even though it has held at times upwards of 400 to 500.

For years, the heating and cooling and other industrial systems have required constant repair, and inmates took advantage of poor planning by breaking fire sprinklers and overflowing toilets to flood their cells.

The new jail eliminates those problems, with tamper-proof sprinkler heads and a water flow system that cuts off if an inmate flushes the commode more than three continuous times.

Director Bruce Brown said the jail was designed to control inmate movement by bringing services directly to inmates. That includes a courtroom onsite as well as medical offices that include a dental suite.

"Any medical portion of a jail is going to be busy because of the lifestyle of the people here," Sheahan said.

The services will be of the most basic kind, he added, with nurses employed full time and doctors on call.

Video conferencing booths have been added to general housing areas and a front visitors' area, eliminating face-to-face contact and the possibility of bringing contraband into the jail, Sheahan said. Each visit is no more than 20 minutes, and conversations are monitored, except when an attorney is speaking with their client.

The facility also utilizes state-of-the-art technology that restricts inmates and holds corrections staff accountable for their responsibilities, such as checking on individuals in their cells.

"I can tell which officer checked which cell anytime day or night," Brown said.

Three floors of the six-level jail are dedicated to inmate services, including housing, while three others serve as control and systems rooms. Every cell is equipped with an intercom system so an inmate can inform staff of problems, and housing was designed so that staff has constant sight and sound of the inmates. That's due, in part, Sheahan said, to a new law going into effect Jan. 1 that is meant to reduce the number of sexual assaults that take place in detention facilities. Sex offenders, as a general rule, are always housed away from the rest of the population.

"We have a classification system in place so we're not placing someone there for shoplifting with someone charged with murder," Brown said.

Some things won't be changing. There is no library but rather a cart of reading materials brought around to inmates, and inmates are brought trays of food rather than congregating in a cafeteria or dining hall. A typical menu: a sandwich, a piece of fruit and a glass of milk, all prepared by inmates, who take care of basic janitorial and laundry services as well.

The recreation area could be said to be anything but, with three concrete walls and a mesh screening on top to bring in sunshine and fresh air. There are no basketballs, no weights, and certainly no ping pong tables or the like.

"We have to make it fair, equitable and safe, but it shouldn't be a place you like to be," Sheahan said.

A separate pod was created for juveniles being tried as adults. The facilities are about the same as those for adults, although there is an area for classrooms where a teacher comes in to give a required 3-hour-a-day lesson to those who have not yet graduated from high school, which is required by law.

There were five males under 18 being held at the old jail, but that number's changed in recent weeks.

"On their 18th birthday, we give them a birthday present and put them with the adult population," Sheahan said.

The detention facility is under a 12-year lease by the Mohave Correctional Facility Finance Corporation, which was formed to facilitate the development. The county is considered a tenant during that time, after which it will take over ownership, assuming all of the Certificates of Participation payments have been made.

The county says that its form of financing doesn't incur debt, instead adding a lease obligation. "The county makes its lease payments and, at the end of the 12 years, the facility will be paid for," said County Public Information Officer Darryle Purcell.

The county has not decided what it will do with the Pine Street Jail or the Jail Annex, which will also close.