By Kelsey Givens
The new Pahrump jail is set to be open and fully operational within the next two weeks, after a small list of issues are corrected and the detention staff finishes their training, Sheriff Tony DeMeo said.
Although the originally projected start date for the new facility came and went as September came to a close, the sheriff said they are well on their way to begin using the new facility full-time.
DeMeo said both staff and inmate workers have been using the new jail part-time for at least the last week and a half, as they get used to the different features and operations of the building.
“We’ve been using the kitchen now for the last week because that’s a very specialized kitchen. There’s a lot of new stuff, so we want to make sure the inmate workers are very comfortable with that before we start moving the staff in,” he said. “And the staff is training on the new electronics, so we’ve been going back and forth with the training, so it should be pretty quick.”
In addition to doing a soft opening and allowing detention staff and inmate workers alike to get used to the new facility, DeMeo said there was a short list of items that needed to be corrected before they could move inmates into the facility permanently.
“There was a punch list of very minor stuff, but we wanted to make sure that all the items were addressed. There were things like a railing over the top of one of the pods that had to be put in place, there was a shelf that had to be done, there was a piece of equipment in the kitchen that everybody was questioning whether or not it needed venting, but it was determined it didn’t need venting. It’s a bread oven, and what it did is it just pushed the air up outside, but it wasn’t needed,” the sheriff said.
“And a lot of things were just making sure the consultant was happy, who represents the county on the project, our jail consultant. So there was that. And we decided a week ago or so, to start utilizing the kitchen and training the inmates, and that’s running pretty smoothly. And also we were waiting for some supplies to come in as well, like the mattress and uniforms and things like that we were waiting for,” he added.
Despite the corrections that needed to be made to the facility before it could be fully operational, the sheriff said he was surprised at how few things actually needed to be fixed for a building of its size.
“Actually I was surprised, given a facility of this size, when we started looking at the punch list, when it came down to the stuff they had to do, it was very minor,” he said.
The other item the sheriff’s office is still addressing is how best to staff the facility for optimal safety on both the part of the staff and inmates.
“That’s one of the issues that we’re addressing. When you look at Tonopah, Tonopah actually can handle 88 inmates in a facility that’s basically very antiquated. Even when it was designed, when that facility was built and finished, it was only the mid to late 90s, and the facility was already obsolete,” he said. “There’s still less staff up there running an 88-bed facility than down here, which we basically think we’ll be running in the 60s, mid 60s maybe 80s it depends. But because staffing is the issue, we’re going to make sure we can staff it the best way we can with the budget given for jail staffing.”
DeMeo added that he plans to meet with his detention deputies and sergeants to create the best plan possible for all parties.
He said he already had a model in mind for how he wants staffing to work in the facility.
In addition to working with the staff the department has now, DeMeo said the jail will be receiving a handful of new deputies working within its walls as well.
“What happened was there were a couple of spots that were deputy spots that we lost a long time ago. There were two deputies fighting arbitration, so we didn’t fill those spots. And the county feels if you don’t fill those spots within six months you don’t need them and they dissolved them. But we fought for those two positions and I got them back, and those two positions will be going down to detention.
“And then we got a grant for new positions, which the county commissioners supported us on, and then there’s a deputy whose been here a long time, he wants to go to detention. So it’s going to be better staffed than it was in the past,” he said.
Addressing all of these issues prior to moving inmates in may help prevent further lawsuits over living conditions, like the ones threatened by the ACLU in a letter last year, which prompted the start of construction on the new $17.7 million jail.
The sheriff said this is an exciting time for the sheriff’s office and noted the department wanted to make sure everything was safe for both the inmates and staff before they begin using the facility full-time.
“I’m excited about it, I’m excited about the move,” he said.