Shiawassee County offering jail tours ahead of May vote on new facility

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CORUNNA (WJRT) (03/04/2019) - On May 7, voters in Shiawassee County will decide if they want to pay for a new county jail.

The 1.64-mill request would pay for a new jail facility that could cost up to $37.7 million to build on land already owned by the county.

The sheriff's department is offering tours of the jail to the public every Monday night leading up to the vote.

"When problems go on in the cells, like the water, they have to open this up and there's asbestos in there," said Lt. Tamie Willson.

Willson, the Shiawassee County jail administrator, has walked the narrow hallways for 19 years. She says the time for change is now.

"I want people to see for themselves that it's a need and not a want," she said.

Shiawassee County residents Steve and Jackie Rogge did exactly that.

"We wanted to take a look to see what the conditions really were," said Jackie.

They, along with others on the tour, were shown the tiny sally port used to bring prisoners in, along with the the holding cells prisoners are than placed into.

Recent plumbing issues forced the temporary closure of a maximum security cell.

"We had to move maximum prisoners to the general population with lower risk security individuals," Willson said.

The county jail, built in 1963, has no ventilation.

"Sometimes with the heat one of the cells is 90 degrees and down here it's 60 degrees," Willson said.

Windows that once let in sunlight are now boarded over in an effort to keep the cold at bay. The sheriff's department said the day room was closed three times last month due to the cold and leaks.

When asked their thoughts about paying an increased property tax over 20 years to build a new jail facility, the Rogges were supportive.

"My heart broke while I was in here. Nobody should have to live like this," said Jackie Rogge.

"First time I've ever walked through a jail like this," said Steve Rogge, "A new experience. I think we need a new jail in this county."

The sheriff's department will continue to offer tours every Monday at
7 p.m. until the vote. They are also adding two tours on Saturday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.