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With sewer leaks, broken locks and plumbing issues, Jackson County sheriff says it's time for a new jail

Jackson Coun
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Jackson County Jail
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Jackson County Jail
Jackson County Jail
Jackson County Jail
Posted at 5:43 PM, Feb 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-18 10:43:59-05

JACKSON, Mich. — Jackson County Sheriff Gary Schuette says the county jail is in critical need of upgrades but it’s going to cost close to $40 million.

“What we need to do is we need to get a new jail,” Schuette said.

His office's Wesley Street facility was built in 1952 and got an addition in 2002 but, “the conditions are deteriorating rapidly,” Schuette said.

"They have been deteriorating for years. It’s been addressed with Band-Aids and we frankly can’t address it with Band-Aids anymore,” he added.

Jackson County Jail
Pipe burst leaking sewage in booking room

Schuette says there are numerous issues starting with plumbing. A sewer leaked onto a staff member and burst through their booking area last summer. It marked the third time the pipe had broken.

“We have leaks all across the facility,” Schuette said. “We have buckets catching water all over the place in areas that are unsecured areas, where we don’t have inmates.”

A drop ceiling over the nursing area has pans to catch water leaking from pipes. The pans drain into a bucket which is emptied every two hours.

Jackson County Jail
Pan leading to a bucket to gather leakage in nursing station

The heating and cooling system also doesn’t work properly.

“We don’t have any thermostats that work in our facility,” he said.

They drilled a hole into the cold air panel return on the boiler and put a meat thermometer inside of it.

Jackson County Jail
Meat thermometer being used as a temperature gauge

“That measures the cold air return coming back in,” he said. “Then we use vise grips and a valve to adjust that valve and then we prop it up with a piece of steel so that we can monitor how the valve is open and closed with the level of the steel.”

Most of the door locks are original, which presents a challenge when things go awry. Recently, deputies couldn’t get an inmate out of a maximum security cell to attend a trial.

“We couldn’t get him out because the door lock was broken,” Schuette said.

Jackson County Jail
70-year-old door locks at the Jackson County Jail

They had to torch open the door lock. Schuette said it costs several thousand dollars to fix those locks. They anticipate more breaking in the near future.

The jail’s structure presents challenges as well. It was built during the Cold War using 16-inch-thick concrete walls enforced with rebar meant to protect against nuclear fallout. That makes it very difficult for them to drill holes into it for technology purposes.

“We can’t get cameras in the adequate places so we can see people in their cells. We can’t get WiFi in to do court hearings that are necessary especially during COVID on Zoom,” he said.

Jackson County Jail
An amalgamation of wires to bypass concrete walls

He also wants to “modernize” the design to eliminate blind spots.

“Things that go on one side of the facility may not be heard by a corrections deputy on the other side of the facility, that can escalate very quickly and before he or she is able to intervene that situation can become out of hand,” Schuette said.

Schuette believes the building’s structure is starting to become compromised. According to administration there is a large crack approximately five inches wide on the third floor and one inch wide on the first floor. Schuette said in 2021 the building separated another quarter inch.

“The building is literally falling apart at the seams right now, so it’s very critical we get something done,” he said.

Jackson County Jail
Walls separating at Jackson County Jail

Schuette is proposing a 20-year, $40 million millage. The plan at this point would be to spend $12 million to tear down the Wesley street facility and rebuild a smaller building to be used for the sheriff’s office, the undersheriff, administrative staff and commanders with a few holding cells to house pre-trial inmates.

An additional $28 million would be used to add on to a Chanter Road facility that now houses inmates typically serving a sentence under a year. That facility would become the new jail for Jackson County moving forward.

Jackson County Jail at Chanter Road

“We have a really big cafeteria out there, we have laundry that would likely have to be expanded. We have a booking area and a control center, all those things that are already there in place, we could put the new pod style jail system out there and it would work seamlessly. We would have to double the guards because we would have both facilities in one location and it will work out much better for us,” Schuette said.

Their next steps are to bring in an architect to present options and tighten up the exact amount they are proposing before submitting the proposal to the Board of Commissioners, which is expected to happen within the next two to three months.

“We want to be as frugal as we can but we also want to make sure that we get exactly what we need moving forward,” he said.

Schuette anticipates they will have the final proposal within the next two to three months. Then they would request the millage be put on the November ballot. The proposed millage would last 20 years.

See below for the first draft of the proposed millage.

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