April 16, 2014

Town hall meetings conclude

Few residents turned out for the last of six town hall meetings held recently for the purpose of explaining in detail the hows and whys of a proposed expansion to the Mercer County Courthouse and Detention Center.
Commissioners and county department heads were on hand in Beulah Monday night with Architect Scott Fettig, of Klein-McCarthy Architects to offer their perspectives to anyone who had questions on the $9.8 million project.
Commission Chairman Gary Murray said that when the courthouse was built in 1963, there were about 2,000 fewer people in the county. The increase in population and the changing needs of the courthouse precipitated the expansion of the facility, he said.
State’s Attorney Jessica Binder stated that the increase in cases coming into the facility was a good reason to begin looking into expansion.
“When I came into office we had 300 adult criminal cases filed,” she said. “Last year there were 359, which is a new case every day. Last year we saw more than double the amount of felony controlled substance cases than the year before. That means more inmates and more court appearances.”
According to Binder, inmates currently come from the county jail through the back door of the courthouse and are led past offices and the public which, in effect, is a serious security concern. Steps have been taken to secure the facility, but the situation still isn’t ideal, she noted. The lack of conference rooms makes it hard for juveniles and domestic violence victims to meet privately with their attorney in the facility. The jailhouse is lacking as well.
“We have an issue, we’re running pretty much full,” Binder said. “Whether or not we have a bed open doesn’t mean we’re not. We have different classifications of prisoners who cannot be housed together. Men and women have to be separated. Pre-trial and post-trial inmates need to be separated. If we bring in someone who doesn’t meet the classification for the beds we have open, we’re over-full. We contract with Grant, Oliver and other counties who don’t have jails. We’re running at full capacity and could use the extra beds.”


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