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Jail additions include new space, features

CONYERS - What does $22.3 million in sales tax revenue get Rockdale County residents who are paying for an expansion to the county jail?

In addition to 250 doors and a 700-foot corridor, officials said the money spent will help the jail function better and ease overcrowding. Among the unique features and improvements in the 98,000-square-foot addition are:

Visitation lobby - Rather than bringing inmates up to a visitation area or to an area inside the jail, much of the visiting will be done through teleconference. Visitors will use monitors set up in the lobby to communicate with inmates. Small conference rooms are included for attorneys to meet with their clients.

Sheriff Jeff Wigington said eventually the technology could be used on the Internet so families and friends could teleconference with inmates from home. The sheriff said reducing man hours and maximizing the deputies' functions was an overriding concern when designing most jail functions.

Expanded booking and departure areas - The booking areas will have a general area for initial processing of inmates as they are brought in through a new sally port. Inmates will be taken to small rooms to remove their personal belongings and receive jail-issued clothing and toiletries. New inmates will then be taken to an orientation area where a video will be shown to provide an overview of the jail rules and they will be given an inmate handbook, a new feature.

Prisoners being released now have their own area where the process is reversed. Wigington said the area is designed to maximize the flow of people while keeping them separated.

Juvenile holding area - This new feature will be located near the booking area. The juvenile holding area meets state law that prohibits juveniles from having contact by sight and sound with the adult jail population. The current jail facility does not have a designated space for juveniles. The sheriff's office currently assigns deputies to watch juveniles either at the Juvenile Court or in the jail lobby while they wait for transport to a youth detention center.

Medical ward - The jail addition will include two hospital cells, with an expanded area for nurses and a vault for medicine. The current medical area was converted from former offices.

Also, space for a dentist chair is included. Wigington said dental services have been in the jail budget for years, as a state requirement, but the jail never had a place for a dentist to work. The move is expected to save time in assigning deputies and transporting inmates to nearby dental offices.

Inmate bedding - Cell blocks will hold 16 inmates in steel cells that are grouped in two-person cells and four-person cells. The bunks, table and stools, toilet, a sink and shower are all constructed of steel and attached to the walls. Each cell block will have a commons area.

Wigington explained the two-person cells will hold the most dangerous inmates as a way to limit the number of them housed together. All cell blocks are managed by deputies stationed in two control towers overlooking the cell blocks on one side and the exercise areas on the other.

Less dangerous inmates will be held in dormitory-style areas that can hold 72 inmates. Bunk beds will line the walls and inmates will share shower and toilet facilities. A console desk will be placed in the center of the room for deputies overseeing the inmates.

The 700-foot corridor connects the visitation lobby with jail administration offices and runs along the back wall of existing jail. Pneumatic tubes run along the corridor to move documents between areas.