Will new Terrell County Jail open its doors? - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Will new Terrell County Jail open its doors?

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By Jennifer Emert - bio | email

January 21, 2009

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - Terrell County was mandated by the U.S. Department of Justice to build a new jail, but a stalemate between the Sheriff and Commissioners could leave it empty with the doors locked.

Sheriff John Bowens says he needs to double his staff and raise salaries to meet justice requirements and open the new facility. Commissioners say the community can't afford it, especially when state funding is being cut.

By mid-February the new Terrell County Jail should be complete. Sheriff John Bowens wants to begin hiring employees because it will take six weeks to get them trained, but he's hit a road block with commissioners.

"We're paying a guard now $7.50 and hour which you're not going to be able to get no good qualified people to handle this equipment. I suggested $10 and they have a problem with that," said Terrell County Sheriff John Bowens.

Commissioners also don't want to double the jail staff from 11 to 21. That's less than the Georgia Association of Sheriff's recommendation of 28 employees. Commissioner Van Phillips said this new jail was designed to have fewer guards.

"We can't handle it, we can't take it. If we had this burden it's almost four mills, that's what he's requesting to run a little small jail and it's a problem," said Terrell County Commissioner Van Phillips.

Bowens says the problem is the mandate he's facing from the Department of Justice. He's prepared to keep the facility closed unless the requirements are met.

"We can't open it because our number one priority with the Justice Department was staffing problems, medical problems, and an issue of not paying a good salary so, there's no point in going into a new jail with the same problems you had in the old jail," said Bowens.

But commissioners are holding fast, especially since the Governor's told everyone to cut their budgets by eight percent.

"My job is to make sure that our money is spent wisely for the taxpayers, that's the number one concern and when I say this, all the commissioners have the same feeling, I feel like I'm speaking for all of them," said Phillips.

Both sides say they need to meet, but no meeting is scheduled. Bowens invited commissioners to tour the jail to better understand the problem, but says not one commissioners has.

Once construction is complete, Sheriff Bowens plans to hold an open house so the community can see the facility. Construction of the new jail cost the county more than 2.5 million dollars.

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