Sheriff Vernon Chinn pressed the Pratt County Commission to approve a plan within the next two to three weeks to upgrade the jail for safety and efficiency and secure three entrances to the county courthouse. Construction costs would be in excess of $800,000, he warned.
Chinn said that a sliding door in the jail had quit working during a weekend when the jail held nine inmates.
"It could have been an emergency," he said. "Things like that we're not going to put off much longer. I don't think we can do anything but move forward on the design phase."
Chinn projected that if the design phase began soon, building could begin by the end of the year and be spread over the next three budget years. He estimated actual construction time at 18 months.
A 2005 feasibility study indicated that the jail was structurally sound and worth putting money into, he said.
Preliminary plans would add 10-15 beds to the jail.
"I don't know if that will be enough," Chinn said. "The state will force counties to build bigger jails before they build a prison."
The question becomes, "do we build it big enough, or build what you can afford?"
Chinn told commissioners that revenue from the jail would probably be down this year. There has been an increase in prisoners serving time on weekends, some in order to keep a job, and others for their own convenience. That limits the space that is available to house prisoners from other counties. The county gets $45 a day for out-of-county prisoners.
Increasing the use of house arrest, supervised by random videotaped phone calls, was discussed.
"Something has to be done," Commission Chair Joe Reynolds agreed.