AIKEN - John Rowley knows people are watching.
On Friday, the former Clarion County, Pa., warden completed his first week as the Aiken County Detention Center administrator.
County officials hope Mr. Rowley will bring some closure to the ongoing overcrowding at the county's aging jail on Hampton Avenue.
Now that he is in place, they expect to speed along the opening of the new $14.8 million Doris C. Gravat facility on Wire Road. The new jail can hold 350 inmates, about double the current capacity, but it is not quite ready for occupants.
Mr. Rowley said he can't pinpoint when the new facility will open, but he and other county officials are optimistic the move will be in April.
One of this week's duties for Mr. Rowley was to begin his transition training of jail staff. He has had to juggle their schedules, making sure the old jail is properly staffed while other jailers learn the new devices and procedures for a direct supervision facility.
All the while, he has been directing the final efforts of telephone and computer technicians, among other contractors performing finishing touches.
Mr. Rowley said he is impressed with his employees, who have been able to handle a Hampton Avenue prison population that has fluctuated at times to near double its capacity.
He said everyone seems to be relieved he is on the job.
"I'm getting the sense they are assessing me," he said. "After we talk, it seems there is a sense of relief that I'm going to meet their expectations."
Mr. Rowley said the new jail is an opportunity for improved morale among the inmates - in turn making the jailers' daily routines less hectic.
He said inmates have been crammed into cells. Some have been sleeping on mattresses placed on the floor next to toilets.
To ease the problem during peak periods, other prisoners have been temporarily transferred to less crowded jails outside the county.
"Trust me, (the prisoners) will respond. When you have a nice, clean facility, they'll respond," Mr. Rowley said.
Mr. Rowley was chosen from a 75-person pool that included Lonnie McCarthy, the veteran jail official who was originally in charge of the transition as the new jail was being built.
Mr. McCarthy was one of five finalists for the director's job.
Mr. Rowley said he hasn't had a chance to meet Mr. McCarthy. His predecessor has been on an administrative leave of his own choosing, county officials said.
"We have a meeting set up with (Mr. McCarthy) on Monday. We will go from there," said Clay Killian, Aiken County administrator. "We've discussed options he and I have, and he has taken time off with my consent."
A vacant deputy jail director position is expected to be advertised in a week to 10 days.
"Trust me, (the prisoners) will respond. When you have a nice, clean facility, they'll respond." - John Rowley, Aiken County's new jail director
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