Leaders break ground on new Branch County jail

Southwest Michigan

COLDWATER, Mich. (WOOD) — Branch County leaders broke ground on a new jail during a Friday afternoon ceremony.

The building will replace the current facility that is plagued with issues, ranging from sinking floors to locks that do not work.

branch county jail rendering
A courtesy rendering of the Branch County Jail. Ground was broken for the new building on Oct. 25, 2019.

Sheriff John Pollack says the new jail will expand capacity from 142 beds to 220 beds and will be able to operate using the same amount of staff.

“We will have a full view from the control tower of every cell and everybody in there,” Pollack said.

A corrections officer will be able to control locks, lighting and the water remotely.

The building is designed to last 40 years. The facility has a big enough kitchen and laundry room to accommodate an additional wing if one is ever needed.

branch county jail rendering
A courtesy rendering of the Branch County Jail. Ground was broken for the new building on Oct. 25, 2019.

“It is designed so that we can put another complete housing unit with another 180 beds onto the back of that so we would have the potential to have over 400 beds,” Pollack said.

The current jail was built in the 1940s as a nursing home. The facility was never designed to be a jail.

“We don’t have rebar in the walls, so the inmates have been chipping away at the mortar in the blocks, and what they end up doing is loosening the blocks, pulling them out,” Pollack said.

branch county jail groundbreaking
Branch County Sheriff John Pollack speaks during a groundbreaking ceremony for a new jail. (Courtesy Branch County Sheriff’s Office – Oct. 25, 2019)

The current building only has one cell for female inmates, which is often overcapacity. The sheriff’s office must pay to house women in nearby counties on a regular basis.

“There are no locks on the minimum-security side. All the inmates are held on one side of the hallway with no locks, and then their bathrooms and showers are on the other side. If they have to go to the bathroom, there is constant walking between that cell and across the hall, which allows them to sneak. If somebody’s not watching, they can get into another cell.”

Voters approved a millage that will cover the more than $20 million in construction costs.

Pollack hopes to have the new jail finished by spring 2021.

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