Visitation area at prison to be expanded

Published 4:26 pm Friday, August 7, 2009

Funding has been approved for the Decatur County Prison to go ahead with the necessary expansion of the visitors center at the facility.

Warden Elijah McCoy says he has plans to renovate the existing visiting area of the prison now that his request has been approved by the Decatur County Board of Commissioners as part of the prison’s 2009-2010 budget.

McCoy said the existing visitation room is approximately 1,600 square feet and was built as an addition to the prison in 1995. At that time, he said the prison was housing between 150 and 170 prisoners on average. Over time, the prison began housing more prisoners with numbers increasing to between 170 and 280. Housing up to 100 additional inmates, the visitation room now has an inadequate space on many holidays when visitors may come from out of town to see inmates, said McCoy.

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“It’s important that we go ahead with this project,” said County Administrator Tom Patton. “Our current visitation area is too small and unfortunately sometimes we have had to limit visitation times for families coming from out of town. This will alleviate that problem.”

Rules of visitation

Each inmate at the prison is allowed 32 hours of visitation each month and on all holidays observed by Decatur County. Normal visitations take place on Saturdays and Sundays from 12 to 4 p.m.

Inmates are allowed to have 12 visitors, which must be immediate family and one significant other. Each visitor must undergo a background check and be approved for visitation by the warden. Those approved for visitation must follow a strict dress code, which includes men wearing long pants, women wearing shorts a certain length above the knee, no sleeveless shirts for women and several others.

McCoy said the renovation and expansion of the room will also allow for increased security for the area, including updated security cameras and the installation of electronic doors for the room.

He explained that when visitors come inside the prison, they are subject to a check for contraband, but it is much less thorough than the search of inmates. McCoy says that his plans for renovation of the visitation room will eliminate much of the contraband being smuggled in to inmates.

The current visitation room has a restroom for visitors located inside the room. McCoy believes visitors have been using the restroom to strategically place contraband where is can be given to inmates during an embrace they are allow to have before their visitation time is complete.

He plans to locate the visitors restroom outside of the room, which will allow for more oversight of visitors. He also plans to have an inmate restroom facility located inside the visitation room so guards do not have to take inmates back through the prison to use the facilities.

“I’m looking forward to it [the new visitation room],” said McCoy. “It’s overdue, and we have to step up our security level to maintain a safe secure facility.”

The room will also be used as a classroom setting for inmates working toward obtaining their General Education Development Diploma (GED) or enrolled in the Customer Service Certificate Program offered by Bainbridge College at the prison. Church services may also be held in the room, which will have a utility closet to house supplies for the various programs offered.

The visitation room will be expanded to approximately 3,000 square feet, and McCoy hopes to begin renovation in the fall.