County officials eyeing potential jail changes

Nov. 18, 2012 @ 08:30 AM

RUTHERFORDTON — Potential population issues at the Rutherford County Jail has sparked discussion about seeking out more room for inmates.

At the November meeting of the Rutherford County Commission, commissioners approved seeking a request for qualification (RFQ) from firms to come in and see if it is feasible to add additional beds for female inmates at the jail.

"When we had the budget discussion in the spring, we had talked about looking into a way to increase space for the female population," said Carl Classen, Rutherford County manager.

According to Rutherford County Sheriff Chris Francis, the number of female inmates at the jail has numbered between 35-40. He said, while they can house that many, he said that jail officials would feel more comfortable with additional spaces.

"We feel comfortable, as of late, but we certainly have a need to take care of our own female prisoners," Francis said. "We just want to see if it was feasible to do at this point."

Francis said that jail officials have looked at space that was used as storage at the jail and that created three additional spaces for female prisoners.

"There is a large demand, unfortunately, for female beds in the jail," Classen said. "The amount of beds we can loan out to other counties has also decreased because more of our citizens are using them."

However, currently, Francis said they have 5-10 inmates over "what we would feel comfortable with."

The space at the Rutherford County Jail has also limited how many female inmates the county can take in from other counties. Those other counties do pay the county for housing their prisoners, on a per-day basis.

"We've not had much at all as far as out-of-county prisoners," Francis said. "Jails in western North Carolina were just not made to house a lot of female prisoners.

"Unfortunately, there are just more female prisoners that are in violation of the law nowadays."

On the male side of the jail, Francis said that they have approximately 160-165 presently and "we are okay n the male side."

Now, the next step for the county is to seek out an architect who would be qualified to do a project to find additional space in the existing jail facility for more female inmates.

"What we are basically doing is looking to see if we can take any existing space and better utilize it," Francis said. "This is just an inquiry and, once we get the figures, we will do the math and see what the best option is."