The new Logan County Detention Center in Paris is more than a jail, potentially much more.
A grand opening, flag raising, ribbon cutting, and dedication was held at the facility, located at 201 Lowder Street in Paris, last Wednesday.
Logan County Sheriff Jason Massey said the idea behind Wednesday’s event was to show appreciation to the public for the new building.
“This whole ceremony is about one thing: our appreciation for the public because you’re the ones that voted overwhelmingly for this to happen,” said Massey.
The sheriff was referencing a July 2016 special election in which 71 percent of county voters voted for two half cent sales taxes to build and equip a new jail.
Construction of the facility began in December of 2017 with the county taking possession of the building on May 8 of this year.
There were two bond issues totalling $12.1 million to pay for the building.
Massey credited his predecessor, former sheriff Boyd Hicks, and Logan County Judge Ray Gack as being the catalysts in pushing for the facility.
The U.S. Flag was raised at the facility for the first time by members of the National Guard Unit from Booneville and the dedication was offered by Pastor Eric Green of Booneville First Baptist Church.
“Besides having the flag raised to me this is the most important thing,” said Massey. “To dedicate the building to God and the purposes he has allowed us to build this facility for.”
Green, who said he had visited inmates at the current facility, said he is thankful “you guys have a clean and positive place to work.”
A campaign platform
Hicks said when he ran for sheriff about six years ago he made it known in the campaign that he wanted to see a new jail built.
“Like all sheriffs I wanted to put people in it. There were a lot of people running around stealing things, doing things that didn’t need to be doing, and they needed a place to stay,” Hicks recalled. “We only had 34 beds in Logan County.”
Hicks said he was advised by sheriffs in other counties to nix talk of a new jail if he really wanted to be elected.
“I said I don’t want to win sheriff if we don’t get a new jail,” Hicks said he answered. “First of all we’ve got to have a safe place for employees to work — these folks risk their lives every day.”
Noting he offered tours of the old jail, after which he said nobody left disbelieving the need for a new facility, Hicks also said the other sheriffs inquired how he was able to get the sales tax measure passed.
“It was the people of Logan County. They know we needed a new jail,” said Hicks. “Five years later, here we are. I appreciate every citizen of this county that supported (the plan). I want to let you know that (the deputies) and these folks that are going to be working here are going to be safer, they’re going to be able to better protect you.”
Gack said the moment was historic for the county.
“We’re here to make history,” Gack said. “We had a whole lot of people who had a hand in this thing. It’s everybody’s jail.”
The jail itself, Gack said, is simple. But, he admitted, it is not small.
“Boyd and I together probably have 50 years plus of law enforcement experience between the two of us,” said Gack. “We kind of knew what would work and what wouldn’t work. It would have been so simple to go to another jail and said ok, build us one like this one.”
Instead the judge, sheriff, and Quorum Court members toured multiple jails, compiled an essential list.
Security was primary. For employees, the public, and prisoners, Gack said.
Why so big?
“It is a big jail but it kind of goes back to that experience thing,” said Gack. “What we wanted to do was design a jail for 3019, not 2019. Fifty years from now we’re going to be overcrowded. We don’t what our grandkids or people coming up to take our place to star all over.”
Gack pointed out that the jail is situated for growth to the east for more cell “pods.”
“Yes it’s big right now but in the future it’s going to save us money,” the judge said.
Gack said he also wanted to thank the citizens of Logan County not only for the jail but for his election so he could be part of “this historic moment.”
Fifteenth Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Tom Tatum II mentioned the availability of almost tripling the current capacity.
“This will enable us to hopefully get some more people off the street who are causing you problems. It will make our community much safer,” said Tatum. “It’s and outstanding complex.”
Tatum also praised the facility’s courtroom.
“One of the most interesting things about it, which is different that any of the other counties in my district is we’re going to have the ability to hold court in here, which is less transport to the courthouse,” he said. “A lot of the prisoners will stay confined here more rather than being bused around your community. Hopefully that will save money not only for the county budget but also for the court system.”
A life changer
Deputy prosecutor Tyler Barham said he supported the idea of a new jail because there was really no fear by those outside the law.
“As a prosecutor I know first hand that a lot of people that commit crimes or are accused of crimes in our county don’t have any fear of going to jail. That’s because they couldn’t hold them,” said Barham. “I know that’s been a problem for the sheriff. He’s had to make a lot of tough decisions about who to release to keep under the number that we have to keep under.
“We won’t have that problem any more.”
Secretary of State John Thurston commended the county on the accomplishment of building a new jail.
“Not only does it provide extra security and accommodations for those who work here but as I was standing here I thought why does a facility like this benefit the county as a whole,” said Thurston. “Well when you have someone who has committed a crime and you’re not able to put them in a cell, that doesn’t deter them from doing them again.
“What happens with a young man or a young woman who commits a crime and you’re able to put them in here for a few days, or overnight, or whatever, most reasonable people don’t want to come back. Being able to put them here, at least for a season, benefits the county as a whole.
“Those folks who are not what you call outlaws but might be going down a wrong path, being able to put them up for a night or two in this beautiful hotel, could very well change their life.”
“We don’t’ want this to be a facility where we’re just holding folks,” he said. “We’ve talked about have GED classes and we’re getting that set up. We’ve talked about having substance abuse counselors come over because opioid and meth are our biggest problems.
“Maybe we can get with some of the people we have here and get their lives turned around. We definitely don’t want this to just be a holding facility.”
Massey expected a two or three week training period on use of the electronics associated with the new facility for deputies, detention officers and the dispatch center.
“We’re going to get there in good time but we wanted to get the grand opening out of the way so you can understand what’s going on with this facility,” said Massey.
The first prisoners in a cell will likely be someone transferred from the facility on Grober Street, which has often been cited for violating jail standards, which led Hicks, and even his predecessor, Steve Smith, to make it known a new jail was needed.