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Jail now has flexibility

CONYERS -- The average stay at the Rockdale County Jail is longer than in the past as inmates await transportation to state prison.

"I've noticed over the last four to six months that we are holding them longer before they're sent to prison," said Rockdale County Jail Commander Capt. Tommy Eaton.

Eaton explained available space determines when inmates leave the jail and go to prison. The state prisons call the county jails across the area when space is available.

"After they're sentenced, it can be anywhere from three months to 10 months," Eaton said.

Fortunately for Rockdale County Jail, its new jail expansion offers more room to accommodate the longer wait period.

After approximately five years of planning, the jail expansion opened in late September with more room, facilities and self-betterment opportunities for inmates.

There are approximately 500 inmates currently in the jail and, when renovation is complete, the entire jail will have an approximate 700-person capacity.

In a tour of the jail, this reporter walked through the new facility with Eaton, starting with the holding cells. The holding cells are inmates' first stop, where they are booked and classified.

The Rockdale County Jail has minimum, medium and maximum security levels and Eaton explained the importance of the classifications.

"We have a big range of inmates, from murderers to DUIs. That's why they're in different classifications. You don't want to put a murderer with someone who's in here for a bad check or something like that," Eaton said.

Minimum security inmates can stay in an open common area with beds and other living necessities, while other inmates are confined to cells.

"And then there are individual housing areas and then you see the cells," Eaton explained from the pod tower. "If they're locked down in their cells, they're allowed to come out depending on their classification so many times a day for a certain amount of time."

The housing areas have tables with attached stools and inmate phones for collect calls.

Also, the kitchen is larger in the new jail expansion and the medical unit grew five times its size, according to Eaton. Besides a waiting room, the medical unit now has three examination rooms, a dental room, two hospital rooms and four rooms for future use.

Rather than talking through Plexiglass for visitation, jail inmates now also have contact with those outside jail through video conferencing.

"These roll in and that's how they visit with their families," Eaton said, pointing to the video monitors. "It's a new thing when we moved over here. We roll those in the housing area, plug it in, (and) it's got a monitor with a phone so they can see who they are talking to, but they're not in front of them."

Families on the other monitor are in the jail's lobby, where they can also bond out inmates and put money on inmates' books for limited weekly commissary purchases.

"There's a company that provides that. They fill out a sheet of what they want. We verify that they have the money on their books to pay for it. And then we send it to the company and then they ship it once a week."

While they have certain privileges that can be taken away as a form of discipline, jail inmates have opportunities for development.

Rockdale County Jail is one of only two jails in the state that offers on-site GED testing, according to Sgt. Dennis Pass.

Pass ran down the list of other free programs, including the 12-step program, anger management, job skills and life skills classes, the fatherhood development program and a mentoring program.

Some classes are court-ordered, Pass said, but most participation is voluntary.

"If you want to get help at Rockdale, you can get it. It is definitely available," Pass said.