Lawrence County Sheriff will release jail feasibility study on Nov. 9

BEDFORD — Lawrence County Sheriff Mike Branham will release the 261 page feasibility study by RQAW Corporation on November 9th following the Lawrence County Commissioners meeting which will begin at 9:30 a.m. at the Lawrence County Courthouse.

Sheriff Mike Branham

Sheriff Branham asked the commissioners in May 2021 to conduct the study to assess whether the county should build a new jail or add on to the current building.

“With the current overcrowding issues and the age of the building, which is more than 30 years, we are facing numerous maintenance issues and they are developing more and more,” said Sheriff Branham before the study began. “My term is almost up and I don’t want to leave this to the next sheriff to deal with. I feel it is my duty to look at a feasibility study to build a new jail or build on. We need a plan.”

The cost of the study was $7,000 and is required by state law.

Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department and jail

According to Sheriff Branham RQAW spent four months working on the study including speaking with county officials, judges, prosecutors, community corrections, and probation officials to find a solution to the overcrowding. Last Tuesday the jail was at 95 percent capacity, housing 170 inmates. At 80 percent capacity, jail staff can move inmates or separate the population if a need arises.

The study also examines the issue of housing inmates beyond the walls of the jail and alternative sentencing.

The history of the Lawrence County Jail:

The first jail in Lawrence county was constructed in May 1818, and the building was both a jail and jailer’s house. It was located in Old Palestine and was built under the bid of Thomas Beagley. It was about fifteen by seventeen feet in size and two stories high, of heavy logs one foot square, eight feet between floors, lined with heavy planks spiked perpendicularly.

The second jail was proposed ten years later, in 1828. In May of that year, proposals were secured to build the jail in Bedford. In July the contract was let to Samuel D. Bishop for $600. This house was of logs and was paid for in installments of $200. The jail was finished in late 1829. It was used for many years.

The third jail was known as the “1858 Jail.” In December 1857, the work began on the new jail and the jailer’s residence. Specifications called for a brick jailer’s house and a stone jail to be built together. During that winter the contract was awarded to John X. Miller for $9,000. Construction began in the Spring. It became necessary to issue county bonds in the amount of $4,300. The building was completed in September 1859. This served the needs of the county until 1904 when jail bonds were floated to the amount of $33,000, with which the present massive stone jail and sheriff’s house were built. It is but a few blocks to the southwest of the public square. The building was finished in August 1904.

The castle-like building we see today at 17th and J streets served as the county jail and sheriff’s home from 1904 until the current jail which cost $5 million opened in 1990 on I Street.