Ashe County Jail operates in the black
by Dylan Lightfoot
Three years after its construction, the the 30,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art Ashe County Detention Center (ACDC) is paying its own bills, and then some.
In 2012, the Ashe County Jail — its unofficial name — deposited $1,221,648 into the county’s general fund, according to Ashe County Sheriff James Williams. For the first three months of 2013, revenues totalled $367,320, putting the jail on track to break $1.4 million this year.
Before completion of the new jail in early 2010, Ashe spent $20,000 to $30,000 per month on incarceration. But, Williams said, “I saw an opportunity to turn the worm around, and now we’re making money.”
Ashe County Detention Center was part of a $12 million law enforcement complex which broke ground in late 2008.
The jail accounted for more than half that cost, according to Williams. The rest went to the building that houses the Sheriff’s Office, State Highway Patrol and Department of Motor Vehicles.
For the past several years, Ashe has averaged an inmate population of about 50, Williams said. With a capacity of 17 in the old jail, the county previously housed 30 or more prisoners at any given time in neighboring county jails at the rate of $40 per inmate per day.
Today, with a 165 inmate capacity, ACDC hosts one hundred or more inmates from other counties at the same rate, he said. In 2011, Alleghany County paid $358,880 to house inmates in Ashe, while Yadkin paid $276,160 and Cabarrus $233,840.
In January, 2012, the N.C. Department of Corrections implemented the State Misdemeanment Confinement Program (MCP) to reduce over-crowding in state prisons, Williams said. Inmates convicted of misdemeanors and sentenced to 91-180 days now serve their time in county jails across the state.
Ashe County Jail has allocated 20 beds for MCP inmates, typically housing 10-12 at a time. To date, MCP money from the state totals $159,496, according to Williams.
The jail also makes money through inmate services, said Jail Administrator Capt. Sharon Price. The commissary, operated by contractor Swanson Foods who pays the jail a percentage, has brought in $59,739 since it opened in November 2011, she said.
Another $51,920 has come from inmate phone service, operated by contractor Paytel, she said. A free email service is also available, but inmates will pay to communicate with family members through video phone kiosks.
“We used to get meals from the hospital, make three trips a day and pay $5 a meal,” said Williams. The jail’s in-house kitchen has reduced per meal costs to less than one dollar, he said.
All revenue from the jail goes “straight to the general fund,” Williams said.
The jail has also benefitted the county through employment, he said, creating 23 full-time and 8-10 part-time jobs.
Price said there are occasionaly dips in Ashe’s inmate population when other counties build new jails or additions. Cabarrus County recently completed a new jail, and earlier this month Wilkes broke ground on a new jail with space for 256 inmates slated for completion next summer.
“Every time we lose (inmates from other counties), we think ‘that’s gonna hurt,’ but then another county steps in,” she said.
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