Cole County Says Goodbye To Old Jail

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JEFFERSON CITY - The new $28 million Cole County Jail is now home to about 110 inmates, but in the past four years, nearly half of the prisoners had to spend the night at other county jails every night.

Cole County Sheriff Greg White said the old jail couldn't meet the needs.

"They did some reconstruction back to the 1980s, but any way, 53 beds are 53 beds. The technology is almost poor. If you have ever seen the movie 'The Rock', with Sean Connery. The same technology that they used, and how they would mechanically open cell doors or multiple doors. It's the same technology we used in the old jail," said White.

The Cole County presiding commissioner Marc Ellinger said in 2007 the county started to send inmates to Morgan county and Pettis County which have larger space and newer facility. 

"We've spent about $800,000 last year in paying other counties," said Ellinger.

Before 2007, the county jail tried to add more sleeping areas, but it didn't help.

"We have more people acting out in negative ways, more suicide attempts. And when we reduced the overcrowding, those bad behaviors dropped off as well," said White.

Sometimes, the county prosecutor and judge had to compromise.

"Frequently prosecutors and judges would have decisions based on the lack of space. That's intolerable condition for everyone in the county because some people that should be in jail were not," said Ellinger.

The new jail cost $28 million construction fees, which will be paid by a half-cent sales tax starting from 2008. After the construction is paid off, the county will deduct the tax rate to 3/8 cent to support jail operation.

"We want to do something that would spread out the cost because it's an expensive project. We want to make sure that everybody has interest in it would help contribute to that cost. So citizens across Cole County are paying that sales tax, but certainly people that come to Cole County and shop here are also paying that sales tax, and they're also receiving the protection," said Ellinger.

Some residents are not happy about paying the bill.

"We are charged extra because people go to jail making wrong decisions to steal, to commit crimes, and we got to pay for it," said Michael Crisler.

But most people KOMU 8 NEWS talked to think it's a reasonable cost. Gregory Medlin opened a new salon just a few blocks from the new jail, and he thought the tax will finally bring benefits to the community.

"Like any tax payer, I wish I wasn't paying more taxes, but I also see the benefits of the new jail. It's helping revitalizing downtown... That's just part of the redevelopment of downtown that's helping drive all new businesses. So every cent that is cost is bringing back to the community, " said Medlin.

The new jail threw a "bed, breadfast and bars" overnight visit event after its grand opening on July 15 and 16. Most people spent the night thought their money was worth it.

Rob Hamilton from Jefferson City said: "More technology than I would imagine, and it seems like a very clean facility."

Jefferson City planning keeping the old jail through a Prison Redevelopment Project. The goal of the project is to revamp the old Missouri State Penitentiary area and provide economic development opportunities.