New jail set to open in summer of 2020

Staff Writer

Catawba County’s new jail is set to open in the summer of 2020 with construction forecasted to be completed in May.

After completion, the new facility will have a series of inspections, and the workers will have to be trained in the new layout.

Major W.T. Boston is in charge of the jail. He says that the much-needed facility has been in the works since January 2016, and he’s looking forward to its completion.

Boston said that there’s a definite need for it for a couple of reasons. Along with natural wear and tear, the jail population is growing.

“We’re not a small county anymore, and our growth has to show it,” he said.

When Boston came on with the Catawba County Sheriff’s Department in 2001, their jail had 85 beds and only 75 deputies.

The county soon outgrew the facility.

Today, the current jail has 259 beds and over 270 employees.

Catawba County’s jail books in around 7,000 people every year which equates to around 20 people each day. With so many inmates, Catawba was transferring inmates to Burke County.

Until late December, the sheriff’s department used the additional facility.

The overflow of inmates at the Burke Catawba District Confinement Facility worked for many years.

The facility was built in the 1990’s to serve both Burke and Catawba Counties and housed 88 inmates.

“Both Burke and Catawba came out good,” Boston said. “It was a great arrangement and the tax payers came out splendid.”

When Catawba County started using the facility, there was an agreement that it would be for a fixed amount of time. After that time was up, Catawba County would have to make other arrangements for its Burke County inmates.

The time came at the end of 2019.

“We pulled our last inmates out before Christmas,” he said. “We were at the end of the contract.”

On December 31, both counties shut down operations on the temporary agreement because of the fact that there was work needed on the old facility.

With the closure, it makes a mandatory need for additional beds.

Even though the stay durations vary, there has to be a bed for each inmate for the time they’re there.

“We have one inmate that’s been in here for five years, but the average inmate is here for around 20 hours, and the median stay is four days,” Boston said.

“It’s a 24/7 365 operation,” Boston said. “It’s never ending. There’s not an hour when the doors aren’t open.”

He said that they use every available bed, but beds aren’t the only issue.

“When you use a facility 365 days a year, it’s going to wear out really fast,” Boston said.

This is what happened to not only the original 1980’s jail, but also the most recent jail that was completed in 2007.

“It’s time for the new jail,” Boston said.

The new jail will be five stories tall.

“It’s the tallest building in Newton that you didn’t know about,” Boston joked.

The bottom two levels will have 128 beds for females and the top two levels will have 192 beds for males.

The very top level will include a mental health facility and a flex block.

The new jail also has a two tiered open floor plan and a day room.

Boston believes it will be more than adequate to accommodate the current inmate population and
future inmates.

With the addition of 320 more beds, both jails will have the capacity to house a total of 579 inmates.

“We’re currently at [that] population here,” Boston said.

Rising drug crimes have kept the jail full.

“Drug related crimes are on the rise,” Boston said. “Drug crimes also fuel other crimes.”

To help combat the drug population, the Catawba County jail offers addiction classes.

The classes specifically target opioid use to help curb it once the inmates are out of jail.

“We want to head off the problem while they’re in here,” Boston said. “If we can touch just one life and it turns their life around, it’s worth it.”

Along with more drug-related incarcerations, there’s been a significant increase in the jail’s female population.

Right now Catawba County’s jail is averaging around 70 female offenders.

The rising number of incarcerated females has made it necessary for more beds.

“No jail really plans for this,” Boston said.

To accommodate the inmates’ diverse needs, the new jail will also have a new medical and mental health unit.

“We want to address our inmates’ needs in a better setting,” Boston said. “We’re going to use this as an opportunity to address medical and mental health problems in Catawba County.”

To also help the inmates stay healthy, they are allowed four hours of recreation every day. During this time, they shower, make phone calls, have video visits, watch television and socialize with each other in the day room,

With the new jail, they’ll not only have a day room, but also an indoor recreation yard.

“It’s a nice recreation yard where they can walk and get some fresh air,” Boston said. “We’re going to be the envy of other jails.”