BEDFORD – Lawrence County Sheriff Mike Branham considers it a great honor to serve as sheriff.
“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 Mike Branham. “My term is almost up and there are several rumors flying saying nothing has been done to help preserve the building over the years. That is just not true.”
“As the leader of this office, I feel it is important to set high standards and clear expectations,” he added, “The Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department is dedicated to providing a professional public safety organization, partnering with our community to promote a high quality of life for the citizens and visitors of Lawrence County. Working together in partnership with our community, we are here to serve your public safety needs,” he added.
One of those needs currently is a new jail.
Sanjay Patel, a project manager, and Cole Walters, a graduate architect with RQAW presented the 261 pages Lawrence County Jail Justice Study to the commissioners in November 2021. Sheriff Mike Branham asked the commissioners in May 2021 to conduct a study to assess whether the county should build a new jail or add on to the current building. The cost of the study was $7,000 and is required by state law.
WBIW and Sheriff Branham will look at the improvements that have been completed over the years to keep the facility functioning.
The jail was opened in July 1990 and could house 88 inmates.
The jail now has a rated capacity of 180 inmates and therefore a classification threshold of 144 inmates. Several months a year the jail is significantly over that threshold. Added onto that is the average length of stay for an inmate has increased significantly averaging 34 or more days.
According to the study the jail needs to be able to house 260 inmates safely.
A new jail could cost between $39,245,179 to $45,609,262 or more depending on where the new facility would be built. If a new jail is built not in the city limits the cost of putting in utilities would increase the cost. Officials stress that this is just a study and no decision has been made on where, when, or if a new jail will be built. Officials will review the report and several discussions will be held before making any decisions.
According to Sheriff Branham, the jail has a $4.5 million dollar budget.
“There are 65 employees,” said Sheriff Branham. “The jail has to be run like a business or major corporation. The sheriff has to be the manager, a human resource director and so much more.”
The facility maintenance budget is costly, from 2015 to 2021 more than $278,100 was paid out to do upkeep at the jail.
Commissioners between 2015-2021 approved spending more than $200,000 on projects. Then funds were used to fabricate new bunks, repair the cooling tower, replace and repair heat pumps, replace a drier, and walk-in for the kitchen and $60,000 was used to repair the parking lot.
The aging elevator in the jail was down for two months and cost more than $400,000 to repair. The concrete ramp in front of the facility was in dire need of repair costing $15,000.
“We are starting to see many other needed repairs,” added Sheriff Branham. “There are 30 heat pumps and we have replaced 6 in the last four years. The others are at the end of their life. Each one will cost between $5,000 to $6,000 each to replace.”
The facilitys’ pipes have collapsed each year since 2017.
“It is extremely expensive,” said Sheriff Branham. “When the pipes collapse we have major flooding and more damage is caused.”
Another costly issue is repairing the sliding doors at the jail.
“The doors are outdated, so getting parts from them is nearly impossible,” Sheriff Branham added. “We can’t find parts so we have to have them fabricated. The cost to replace a door motor is more than $2,500.”
In the next segment, Sheriff Branham will address improvements made in the department over his terms.