WHAT OTHERS SAY: Cole County’s new jail opens, but it wasn't easy

Tuesday, July 19, 2011 | 12:11 p.m. CDT

Now that the ribbon has been cut, tours have ended and breakfast has been served to overnight guests to raise funds, the practical business of operating the new Cole County Jail will begin.

The community was invited inside the jail Friday and Saturday for an opening ceremony, tours and a “Bed, Breakfast and Bars” fundraiser that attracted about 90 guests.

The opening marked the end of a process that spanned years, cost millions of dollars and caused varying degrees of frustration.

After failure of an initial ballot issue, a citizens’ advisory committee formed in 2006 to craft a second proposal approved by a majority of Cole County voters in August 2007.

The voter-approved funding mechanism is a law enforcement sales tax of a half cent for up to 15 years for construction costs, to be reduced to three-eighths of a cent for operations after the building costs are paid.

The $28 million facility at the corner of High and Adams streets will house 180 prisoners in 90 two-person cells.

Construction was interrupted by both concrete and drainage problems, and by changes that required cost adjustments.

Community members who toured and stayed overnight at the facility generally characterized the new jail as a nice place to visit, but not to live.

Accommodations are spartan. The recreation area contains no equipment (so inmates can’t harm each other), clothing is unfashionable (orange for men; lime-green for women) and there is no privacy. Wake-up calls are early and showers are brief.

Unlike state prisons, where felons served sentences, county jails often house the accused while they await trial.

Waiting and boredom are integral components of time spent in jail.

Cole County Sheriff Greg White sees boredom as a virtue if it prompts prisoners to contemplate changing their lives. In an opening invocation, he said, “Lord, I ask that you make this a place that changes people’s hearts.”

That is an idealistic, but not impossible, outcome.

Reprinted from the Jefferson City News-Tribune with permission.

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