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'Bursting at the seams'

| Friday, Aug. 9, 2002

UNIONTOWN - Less than three weeks after Fayette County opened a $1 million, 80-bed facility to ease overcrowding at its 19th-century jail, the prison is "bursting at the seams" again.

The county opened the dormitory-style addition for minimum-security prisoners on July 19.

With optimal capacity for the two facilities at 190, 243 prisoners were being held earlier this week - an increase of 38 prisoners from the date of the new facility's opening, according to Warden Larry Medlock.

"It's bursting at the seams," said Sheriff Gary Brownfield, the chairman of the county's prison board.

It has become apparent that the new building cannot safely hold the 80 prisoners it was designed to house, he said.

"There's no way. There's just not enough space. We have 60 there now, and it's full," he said.

County Commissioner Ron Nehls said he's less concerned about the momentary increase in inmates than he is with the idea that the low-security building can't hold its advertised capacity.

"They said that at the last prison board meeting, and I just thought, 'I hope this isn't yet another fallacy connected with the jail,'" Nehls said.

However, Medlock said he believes that 60 is a safe level, but the building can hold 80.

"Sixty is comfortable, but if we need to put 80 in there, we'll have 80," he said.

The extra empty space is helpful from a security standpoint, Medlock said.

Medlock also told the prison board two months ago that he hoped to hold the population at the main prison down to 130 inmates or less to allow for effective segregation of hardened criminals away from new inmates.

That number was exceeded earlier this week, however.

The total jail population as of Thursday had dropped to 220, which is more manageable, Medlock said.

He attributed the sudden increase to an influx of inmates for criminal trials this week and a few more arrests than normal.

A continuing problem is the number of female prisoners.

The 24-bed wing for female prisoners has been operating at capacity for months.

This means that, while the county spent $1 million to bring back its inmates from rented cells in surrounding counties last month, it may soon have to send out some female inmates and start renting cells again.

The county's prison board is set to meet again on Aug. 28.

Junker is a reporter for the Tribune-Review.

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