Wednesday’s chilly air and gloomy skies pointed toward the onset of winter above Greene County’s brand new trailer jail, purported to be the first of its kind.
Stacked three high, 108 beds line the stainless steel walls of the 53-foot semi-trailers in a parking lot east of the Greene County Jail.
Sheriff Jim Arnott gestured above at the mesh netting over the rec yard. It’s built to withstand snow and ice, he said, but it also has security functions: to hold county prisoners and to keep out drugs and other contraband that could be hoisted in from a nearby street or dropped from a drone.
Arnott and representatives of All Detainment Solutions, which built the facility the county is leasing at a cost of about $22 per day per prisoner, let local reporters walk around the temporary jail and ask questions about the project.
The trailer jail’s construction is about 95 percent done, Arnott said, though he needs more staff before it can start holding inmates. Two jail officers will be on trailer-jail-duty at a time, and Arnott said it takes 13 staffers to keep the temporary detainment facility operating around the clock.
The trailers sit inside tall chain-link fences topped with razor wire. Other security features, including motion detectors, were not discussed in detail with reporters.
Numerous artificial eyes and ears allow the sheriff’s staff to see and hear inside and outside the outdoor jail, and being “over-camera-ed” is a good thing, the sheriff says.
Inside the trailer jail is a common area that will feature a television and vending machine. There’s a private restroom for staff and a row of shower and toilet facilities for inmates.
“This is not your average restroom,” Arnott said. “It’s meant to stand up to abuse, and for a long period of time and lots of traffic.”
It’s unclear how long the trailer jail will be used. The county’s initial lease lasts three years, and Arnott said he’ll use it as long as he needs it.
It’s no secret that the Greene County Jail is overcrowded, leading the sheriff to refuse low-level municipal offenders and forcing some inmates to be hauled to other counties in southwest Missouri at cost. The trailer jail could allow the county to save money by bringing its prisoners home, Arnott said.
Arnott spoke in favor several times of a proposed tax issue that could allow the county to build a new jail to hold up to 1,200 inmates. The election is next Tuesday.
All Detainment Solutions, the company that built the trailer jail, was the only bidder for the project, Arnott said. The county has the responsibility for preventing escapes, though Arnott said the company could be liable if a defect in construction is to blame.
Arnott touted the company’s experience building temporary shelters for disaster survivors, though the company’s president, Anthony Kelly, said the trailer jail is considerably stronger than those used by hurricane refugees.
Kelly pointed out there were no rivets in the walls and said the trailers will be reusable. The company is looking at other similar opportunities in counties in Missouri and across the nation, he said.
In case county officers use pepper spray, Arnott said, the air can be ventilated in less than a minute.
Among those accompanying the company representatives were state Rep. Hannah Kelly, R-Mountain Grove, a Springfield native in her first term in office, and Greene County Presiding Commissioner Bob Cirtin.
Before the journalists got out of the jail, Arnott showed the rec yard underneath the snow-proof, drug-proof mesh. There’s hardly enough room for much more than exercise, not that it would matter — Arnott says he banned competitive sports among inmates years ago due to violent confrontations.