County Eyes Hazardous Mitigation Assistance Grant For Community Safe Room
Hopkins County officials are considering building two structures near the sheriff’s office, a trustee housing facility and a community safe room.
Hopkins County officials plan to use a portion of the $7-plus million the county has been awarded in American Rescue Program funding to construct a trustee housing facility. The facility would keep the trustees, who work in the community, separate from other inmates as a safety precaution against COVID-19 or any other illness being spread, and to better keep contraband such as snuff or controlled substance out of the county jail.
Constructing the facility too will free up space in the county jail so the inmate count remains below the count recommended by state jail standards inspectors. The inmate limit is 192, but jail standards officials recommend keeping 10 beds open, to accommodate an influx over the weekend, Hopkins County Sheriff Lewis Tatum explained.
The new facility, as currently estimated, would be constructed to house up to 48 beds. Currently, jail trustees are utilized on work assignments daily throughout the county. For instance, some jail trustees are assigned to Commissioners’ precinct crews, some assist at Hopkins County Civic Center particularly the yard. Female inmates clean in offices and buildings all over the county, including the clerk’s offices and courthouses. Tatum estimated 35-36 trustees can be found on any given day on work detail.
While the current plan is for the female trustees to remain in B Hall dorm at the jail, the male trustees would lodge in the new Trustee Housing facility. Having the male inmates at a separate facility would be easier for jail staff and those individuals who pick the inmates up for their work detail. The THF would allow for better monitoring during the pick up and drop off process without causing congestion in the main booking area at the jail, which could potentially present a safety issue.
“I want the public to know that this is innovative, because not everybody’s doing this.. But, it is a very creative way first of all protecting the jail and also addressing jail crowding,” Hopkins County Judge Robert Newsom said. “We are pushing that limit.” Newsom said.
According to County Auditor Shannah Aulsbrook the Trustee Housing Facility would be paid completely out of American Recovery Program funds or state and local recovery funds,
“This would be from a grant. This is one of the ways it can be spent. There is not match required. We’d just spend from our part of the funding so there would be no dollars spent,” Aulsbrook said.
A new trustee housing facility would require adding four more jailers to the payroll, to be in compliance with inmate-officer requirements. Those salaries would not be paid out of the ARP funding, however, Aulsbrook noted. Tatum noted additional jailers are needed at the jail. Three of the additional jail staff could be utilized in the county jail while the trustee facility is mostly empty during the day time hours when trustees are out working. One jailer would be at the facility at all times, according to Tatum. The jail does receive enough revenue which should cover the cost of the additional jailers, Aulsbrook said.
County officials are proposing cleaning up county-owned property on the north side of Houston Street across from the sheriff’s office and jail and building the Trustee Housing Facility on the site.
Hopkins County Commissioners Court at their July 26 meeting authorized issuance of requests for proposals for qualifications for architectural services related to American Rescue funds or state and local fiscal recovery funds, for a Trustee Housing Facility.
Aulsbrook noted that currently she, county grants coordinator Beth Wisenbaker and the Commissioners Court currently make up the committee that review proposals to ensure the qualifications meet standards set by the county for the project. She recommended that the sheriff also be included on the committee as he should have a huge say as the project progresses. The trustee housing facility will need to meet not only state jail standards but also fit local use needs as well.
Tatum said a representative from jail standards commission actually approached him at a recent out-of-town meeting about the project. The official had already heard what Hopkins County wanted to to and “seemed to be very much on board,” as it would reinforce COVID-19 distancing and additional measures to reduce changes of contraband entering the jail.
Community Safe Room
Hopkins County Commissioners Court also authorized issuance of requests for proposals for qualifications for architectural services related to a Hazard Mitigation Assistance Grant Programs application the county is submitted with a goal of constructing a community safe room. If approved, the grant is an 80/20 percent match, with 80 percent coming from the grant and the county providing a 20 percent match.
The safe room would serve multiple purposes. it could serve as a community shelter in times of extreme weather, or a site for certain types of mass distributions, such as a safe space from which vaccines could be administered. The Community Safe Room too would likely serve as a new Emergency Operations Center for the entire county, as first the sheriff’s office training room then the administrative offices above the south side ambulance dorm at Hopkins County Fire Department/Intermodal Facility served as EOCs for several months after COVID-19 pandemic spread across the area.
The facility, as proposed, would be located across from the county jail, would include restrooms and a kitchenette. In order to make it as safe a location as possible, the community safe room would be built much like the portion of Hopkins County Law Enforcement Center where inmates are housed. It would have solid concrete floors, as well as solid walls and ceilings to make it sturdy, more able to withstand extreme weather such as a tornado.
The community safe room being constructed depends on the county being approved for funding to use for that purpose.