Work progresses on new Franklin County jail

Earl Hopkins and Marc Kovac The Columbus Dispatch USA TODAY NETWORK
Work proceeds on the new Franklin County jail. The first inmates should move in next fall.

As the construction of a new Franklin County jail on Fisher Road continues, officials say that inmates will probably be moved in by the fall of 2021.

The main building, which is to have nearly 870 inmate beds and about 429,000 square feet, is now expected to be substantially complete by early April, but it will take months to add furnishings and equipment, complete deputy and staff training, and otherwise prepare the facility for inmates, said Deputy County Administrator Kris Long. That puts actual inmate occupancy about a year from now.

Some initial contracts are out for bid on the second phase of the jail, which is to add more than 430 inmate beds and 166,000 square feet. Site work on that phase is expected to begin this year, and the facility is to be completed in 2023.

The overall project is to cost about $360 million, funded by a sales tax increase implemented by the commissioners in 2013. The new jail will replace the decades-old Downtown lockup; inmates will be housed in the county’s other jail, on Jackson Pike, as well as in the new facility.

Despite obstacles related to the pandemic, which forced the Gilbane Building Co. to downsize its staff from 250 workers to 90, Senior General Superintendent Jim Pietrykowski said the pace of construction has been steady.

“The guys have really worked hard out here,” he said. “We’ve been a little tired because of COVID, but the guys have worked right through it. It’s very exciting to look at it come together so quickly.”

County officials are also completing more than $1 million in renovations to the Jackson Pike facility to allow deputies to begin training for the direct-supervision model of inmate management that will be used in the Fisher Road facility.

The county has about 2,300 jail beds and an average daily inmate count of about 2,100. Many inmates are in the facilities for a few weeks or less; about three-quarters are released within three days.

Deputies will be stationed directly with groups of inmates in two-tiered pods that include cells, common areas and recreation space. The setup will allow deputies to be able to see inmates at all times, and inmates will spend much of their time in their pods instead of being moved from room to room or outside the facility for medical and other services.

The initial booking area is more like a lobby, offering phone access and other features designed to set a more positive tone for those who have been arrested.

“Inmate behavior management starts at intake,” Chief Deputy Geoffrey Stobart said. “It starts right here. Setting those clear expectations right from the go: do what you’re supposed to do, act the way you’re supposed to act, and, while it sucks — this is jail — it can be a much less-painful experience if you do the things you’re supposed to do.”

He added: “Seventy-three percent of the people that cycle through the doors of the jail get released right back into our community. We feel it’s in our best interest to release them in a little better shape than we found them.”

The new facility also will feature more open spaces, multi-purpose rooms for programming, a detox facility, video visitation access and other upgrades.

With the installation of these services, Maj. Chad Thompson said, the new jail will present a more “normative environment” for inmates. The county took inspiration from facilities in San Diego and elsewhere.

“We’ve kind of stolen ideas from other jails all over the country and kind of put them together in our own way,” Thompson said.

“Not everybody’s a Hannibal Lecter, and we shouldn’t treat them that way,” Thompson said.

ehopkins@gannett.com

@Earl_Hopkins1

mkovoca@gannett.com

@ohiocapitalblog

Work proceeds on the new Franklin County jail. The first inmates should move in next fall.