DOUBLE SPRINGS—Early Sunday morning marked history in the long awaited transfer of inmates from the oldest functional jail in Alabama to one of the state’s newest facilities—the jail facility located adjacent to the Winston County Courthouse.
Authorities met at the jail facility around 5 a.m. for a briefing. The process of transferring first the female inmates followed by male inmates began in the pre-dawn hours, when inmates were ordered up and to get their showers, noted jail administrator James Whitman. All of their property had to be packaged in white garbage bags, he said.
A jailer went to the upstairs portion of the courthouse, to a jail that has been in service since 1929 with an addition made 1962. He escorted three to four female inmates at one time downstairs to the former dispatch area, where they were handcuffed together and traveled in a train with jailer escort.
Once they entered the new jail facility, they were given toiletries and white uniforms, which were stacked according to sizes ranging from small to 4XL. Once the inmate signed a form for receipt of property (meaning they would be responsible for any losses), they were escorted with their only personal property being eyeglasses to the cells in the new facility.
The first jail inmate to be housed in the new facility was Shelley Hagen, who was locked in her new cell 5:15 a.m.
“I’m just happy to be here,” another female inmate said.
After the process of transferring the female inmates was completed, the male inmates were then transferred.
By mid morning Sunday, all current inmates were placed into their new cells. The new jail contains eight cells per pod with four pods for a total 32 cells, housing up to 64 inmates Whitman said. There will not be any visuals between the male and female cells, workers noted.
“One pod has approximately the same square footage as the entire old jail,” noted Winston County Sheriff Rick Harris. “The space factor is really the factor more than bunks. If we need more bunks, we can bring more bunks in. More bedding is here because we have the space for it…Space is not the issue any more.”
The new facility also has a dorm used for work release inmates, which is counted separately from the other cells, authorities indicated.
“It’s been a long time,” one jailer said. “Better facility, cleaner, safer.”
Harris added, “This is a long awaited day. I think it began over 25 years ago—the first commission to put in a plan to build a new jail. For the last 25 years, we’ve waited this date.”
Harris has waited for the new jail facility ever since taking office as sheriff seven months ago. “Having the other jail situation has really hampered us on a lot on field activities,” he said.
The older jail had been source of numerous complaints from officials and inmates, including dilapidated shower conditions and such limited jail space, that as many as 12 or higher inmates had to be cramped into a single cell with many sleeping on the floor.
“It was a pain. Every time you got a new (inmate) and go to lock him up, you have 25 people in the cell, you are worried about who is going to try to come out when you put one in,” said jailer Travis Wright. “It was a dangerous situation,” Whitman added.
The older jail had been under a court order to keep the jail quota at 25 inmates or lower. Now that inmates have been transferred to the new facility, that order is no longer in effect, according to Harris.
Now, two inmates can be housed per cell in the new facility, according to Whitman. Total new jail capacity can house up to 64 inmates.
A control pod or large indoor tower in the new jail facility is where an administrator can view the layout by computer of all jail cells. The tower’s upper level is an IT center, maintenance area or control center. Cameras and doors are controlled from this area.
“We probably have the best system or the most updated system in the state right now,” Whitman said.
Behind the tower is the booking area. Three jailers will be on duty at all times. Behind the booking area are three holding cells or a temporary holding location for those intoxicated, etc. Those who are disorderly are strapped in a chair for temporary confinement, Harris indicated.
Winston County now sports three historic notes concerning jails, in having the oldest log jail in America—the Houston jail; the oldest functional jail in Alabama – the 1929 facility in the courthouse; and now one of the newest jails in the state—the new Bobby R. Aderholt Municipal Complex.
In other words, it has been 80 years since Winston County has had a new jail.