The televisions mounted high on the concrete walls are blank and cold. No basketballs drum the floor of the exercise yards. No one sits at bare metal tables. The cells are empty and will never be full again.
All of the Richmond County Jail inmates have been officially moved eight miles away, to the Charles B. Webster Detention Center on Phinizy Road. The old jail at the Law Enforcement Center, built in 1985 to hold about 350 inmates and almost filled to twice its capacity at its peak, will not be used to house prisoners again – except for a few hours, Sheriff Ronnie Strength said.
“It is now an intake and release facility,” he said, explaining that the jail only serves as a transition center where suspects are booked on charges or released.
Prisoners are transported to the new detention center twice each day, he said.
Capt. Bill Reeves said the move was made possible by the completion of two new jail pods to house male inmates at the Phinizy Road jail along with a 164-bed medical facility.
Reeves said the design of the old jail caused it to be plagued with plumbing
problems that often spilled onto lower floors. The empty gray-and-blue, concrete-and-steel pods retain a dank, musty odor, reminiscent of an old high school locker room.
“Water flows down, and it will find a way out,” Reeves said, adding that the new jail pods are better designed and less vulnerable to such problems. A broken pipe or overflowing toilet can be contained to one floor, he said.
“We learned to build out, not build up,” he said.
Strength said that when the new sheriff’s administration building is completed this summer, the only employees left in the old building will be a few jail employees, processing inmates in an out of custody.
Strength said he expects workers will break ground soon on a new intake facility on Phinizy Road, which should be completed in about 18 months.
“Once that is finished, the old building will be completely shut down,” Strength said, adding that he does not know what its future will be.