Alpena County Jail in need of new facility

ALPENA — The Alpena County Jail was built in the 1950s and despite several renovation projects there are major issues with it and the time is near to where a new one will be necessary.

From the outside to a casual observer it appears the concrete brick facility is sturdy and likely efficient for its use. When you get a closer look, however, it is easy to see there are serious issues with it on the exterior and interior.

Sheriff Steve Kieliszewski said there are serious cracks in the block on the outside of the building that get worse from freeze/thaw cycles. He said there are places where walls are beginning to buckle and corrective action will be needed well before a new jail is built.

“We have so many issues. We have structural issues, plumbing issues, electrical issues and really a lot wrong with a building that is very old,” Kieliszewski said.

Despite efforts to maintain and fix the jail, which also serves as the sheriff’s department, there is no way to correct all of the issues. During periods of heavy rain and snow thaw, buckets or trash cans line hallways and other sections of the building to collect water from leaky ceilings and walls. Brown stains on the white ceiling panels are from the leaks.

Kieliszewski said because of the leaks and other plumbing issues, there is a mold issue that can become a health issue for employees and inmates. There also is a lack of amenities, such as air conditioning, that makes work uncomfortable for employees and the inmates.

Over the years the county has received citations from Michigan Department of Justice for conditions at the jail, as well as not having staff to meet requirements. Kieliszewski said DOJ requires correction officers to be near enough to the inmates to physically see and hear them. He said the way the jail was designed that isn’t possible. Although there is correction staff who make rounds frequently, often they are confined in a small, cramped office and rely on monitors and an audio system to keep tabs on the inmates.

In order to meet the guidelines of state and federal authorities, Kieliszewski said a new jail should have a central control area for corrections and pop cells in a circle around it. He said there are many other things a new jail would be able to provide.

“We would be able to have the technology that we don’t have and need now and we need things like storage,” he said. “We are bursting at the seams and don’t have enough room. It is very cramped.”

A pole barn or large garage would be something that would come in handy, Kieliszewski said. Currently snowmobiles and boats are stored outside at the airport or fairgrounds, but he said having them on site would be ideal, especially when there is an emergency.

“We could just grab them and go and it would save a lot of time,” Kieliszewski said.

A committee has been formed to explore the possibility and need for a new jail and Kieliszewski said the federal government has approved funding to have its experts conduct a feasibility study done on crime, the courts and law enforcement in Alpena County. He said the jail will be examined by experts and a public hearing will be held where the results will be shared with residents. The committee also is going to Colorado to learn more about modern jails that will help the committee to decide what a new jail should include.

“We hope to have this done by the end of the year,” Kieliszewski said.

Kieliszewski said there are some in the community who don’t think a new jail is necessary because it is only used to house criminals. He said many of the people in jail simply make a mistake, had a brush with the law and are not bad people. No matter what they are in for they are to be treated humane.

“Part of this whole thing is we need to educate the public,” Kieliszewski said. “A new jail isn’t just for the inmates, or just for the employees. The current one has fulfilled its purpose, but it is getting to the point that it is not able to function how we need it to.”

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews.