By Kelsey Givens
The new Pahrump jail is in the final stages of completion and is on schedule to open for business in August.
From the outside, the new building looks finished, with its warm yellow-painted cement walls and brown stone façade. The only giveaway that there might be any work left is the remaining construction trucks sitting in its parking lot.
On the inside, however, it’s slightly more obvious the jail isn’t quite finished.
There are patches on some of the cell walls that still need to be painted, there is technology that still needs to be hooked up and there are paper wrappings on the new tables and other furniture that still need to be removed.
But other than these and several other small jobs left to complete, the jail is basically done.
Sheriff Tony DeMeo said the work is on schedule for the detention staff to get into their new facility this month to begin training on the new technology and space they will soon be running.
In comparison to the dark and dingy jail currently in operation next door to the new facility, this will be a much brighter, cleaner and more functional space.
Everything from the design of the control centers to the color scheme to the new visitation system was reviewed and designed by members of the sheriff’s department to maximize manpower and create a safer, calmer atmosphere.
Details like a small storage area and restroom were added to the control center nearest the cells to maximize manpower. Having two control centers will give deputies more options from which to better control the space, depending upon such conditions as manpower and inmate population.
And the color scheme of the entire facility is a pallet of browns, tans and grays, which DeMeo said should promote calmer attitudes in inmates and staff alike.
“They’ve done studies that show certain colors agitate people and make them more irritated,” he said.
DeMeo said he helped choose the colors.
A new parking lot with a tall, barb-wired fence has gone up in the last several months outside the facility, providing a more secure facility.
And the excitement is hard to miss when speaking with the staff, who say they can’t wait to get into the new facility.
“It’s a lot nicer for everyone; the inmates and the staff,” DeMeo said. “And for us, regardless, it’s a better facility. It’s better inmate control, it’s safer and it’s more secure.”
After the detention staff has had a chance to learn about their new facility and train on all of the new computers and equipment, they will begin slowly filling the jail with current inmates.
DeMeo said the plan for now is in August to take the Pahrump inmates and transfer them over to the new facility.
After the staff and inmates have gotten used to running the facility at that capacity, more inmates from Tonopah will be brought down to help alleviate high numbers of people being held in that facility.
Though Tonopah will soon see a dramatic decrease in the number of inmates it houses within the next several months, DeMeo said there are no plans to transfer Tonopah guards down to work in the Pahrump jail.
“We can’t close Tonopah because we have court and district court up there and there’s use of that facility. And we’ll be sending inmates up there from here if we can’t house inmates here if there’s classification issues or whatever.
“They’re not going to be as busy as they are now, but right now they’re holding 88 and sometime they have 91, 94 inmates and sometimes we have over 144 people in our facilities, so we need it,” he said.
The jail and an added impound lot have cost the county approximately $17.7 million.
To make sure taxpayers get to see what their money has paid for, DeMeo said there are plans to host a tour of the new jail before the inmates are brought in.
“Once it’s done, we’ll do a ribbon cutting and let everyone come take a look. This is taxpayer money. They should have an opportunity to see what they paid for. They won’t be able to go downstairs or anything, but they’ll get to see the basic operation of the facility,” he said.
DeMeo and other longtime members of the sheriff’s office look forward to demolishing the old jail, a source of some serious headaches over the years.
A history of escape attempts and legal trouble have marked the jail’s history in the county for a number of years. One inmate recently won a settlement in a federal case brought against the county over the jail. At one point the American Civil Liberties Union threatened to sue the county over conditions in the jail as well.
Overcrowding is a routine problem. A young female inmate committed suicide inside a makeshift cell in the jail in May. That incident is remains under investigation.
County officials have told the Pahrump Valley Times more than once that the sheriff’s department will likely attempt to recoup the cost of the new jail by housing prisoners from outside Nye County, selling bed space to federal law enforcement agencies like the U.S. Marshals Service or Homeland Security.
Additional jail staff would likely be needed in that circumstance and several sources have shared concerns about the state of the county’s finances and how unlikely county administrators might be in hiring any new jail guards, leaving some to question whether the sheriff’s department has the staff to police the new, much larger facility.