Broken locks highlight need for new Branch Co. Jail

Southwest Michigan

COLDWATER, Mich. (WOOD) — Plans for a new Branch County Jail are moving forward after county commissioners selected a site Monday.

The new facility will be built next to the existing jail. Construction is expected to cost between $20 million and $22 million.

Sheriff John Pollack says the new jail is needed to improve safety for everyone. The current facility is deteriorating with no locks on cell doors in the minimum security section and failing locks in other cell blocks.

“We don’t like the security issues we have to deal with here for the staff,” Pollack said.

The Branch County sheriff says the current building was originally built as a home for seniors in the late 1940s and was never designed to be a jail.

Floors are sinking throughout the building including in cells and the main lobby. Cement blocks are also crumbling and the building has some leaking walls.

“The inmates are able to actually work the blocks and push the blocks out between cell walls and so they have access between the cells through a hole in the wall,” Pollack said.

The plans for the new jail include a kitchen and laundry facility big enough to handle an additional wing of inmates, if needed.

The new design will also allow provide better sight lines to monitor inmates and will have improved camera surveillance systems.

“We’ll be able to go from 147 to 220 beds and we won’t have to add staff just because of the efficiencies of the design of the jail,” Pollack added.

The sheriff says the deteriorating conditions of the current facility led to an inmate’s escape about 6 years ago, with the help of an old porcelain sink.

“The pipe, the trapping, was exposed,” Pollack said. “They were able to break that off, crush it down by lifting a bunk up and smashing it, and then he used that as a hammer to bust out the glass in the window and got out.”

Construction of the new jail is expected to begin in September. The process should take between 18 months and two years to complete.

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