Construction upgrades include building of a new pod with dedicated mental health and medical facilities, as well as a remodel of the jail’s booking area.
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After several months of work and consultation, the Washington County Commission is moving ahead with a much-needed expansion at the Purgatory Correctional Facility in Utah.
The commission recently approved a contract with the Sletten Construction Company for three projects at the county jail. This includes the building of a new pod with dedicated mental health and medical facilities, as well as a remodel of the jail's booking area.
"Essentially, we're going to be adding a new wing to the Purgatory Correctional Facility — specifically for medical and mental health," Washington County Sheriff Nate Brooksby told the commission. "Inmates that are detoxing from drugs and alcohol, or those with mental health issues, those individuals are typically brought into our booking area so our medical staff and licensed clinical social workers have close proximity to them."
However, the situation at the jail was complicated by the pandemic when inmates became sick with COVID-19 in 2020. Beds were quickly taken up with the sick and left the jail "bursting at the seams," Brooksby said.
This necessitated a need for more space, which resulted in the recent approval of the construction contract. Plans call for a pod with 32 cells, most of which will be "double-bunked." This will provide up to 60 new beds for the jail.
The new wing will provide a better space for inmates in the throes of detoxing or suffering mental health issues, Brooksby said.
"We have to keep a very close eye on them," the sheriff told St. George News following the commission meeting. "We have to have medical staff engaging with them on a regular basis, whether it's vitals or doing screenings for mental health. And so those types of inmates come in and they're putting them in the booking area [for] its close proximity. They're checked on every 15 minutes by a deputy or medical staff. So high-demand inmates. But that space is very limited in booking right now. So with this medical expansion, it's really going to give us a lot more wiggle room for those types of inmates."
Along with the expansion, work on the booking area of the jail will add additional space for inmates and office space for county employees.
In addition to the increased space, Commissioner Gil Almquist said it also will allow sick inmates to be isolated in the case of future outbreaks, enhancing the well-being of not only the inmate population but also the Sheriff's deputies and jail staff in general.
"The extra space will really help out," Brooksby said.
The County Commission is using money from the American Rescue Plan Act to fund the expansion of the county jail. If that weren't available, Washington County Administrator Nichole Felshaw said the county would have needed a bond for the expansion.
The expansion is estimated to run $12-to-$14 million with ground potentially being broken sometime next spring, Brooksby said.
Once underway, construction is slated to last around two years.
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