Construction begins on $2M inmate housing facility at Purgatory

Washington County Purgatory Correctional Facility stock image | St. George News

HURRICANE – Purgatory Correctional Facility will be getting a new addition as construction begins on a low-security, work-crew building replacing dilapidated modular structures that are 16 years out of date.

Current work-release housing that is being replaced by new facility at Purgatory Correctional Facility , Hurricane, Utah, March 14, 2018 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

The single-story, $2 million detention facility will house approximately 128 work-release inmates and enhance the Sheriff’s Office ability to provide inmates with jobs that help them transition back into society.

Construction of the 14,000-square-foot building began this week on a site located behind the jail. It is expected to be completed by September.

Read more: County approval makes way for addition to Purgatory for state-contracted inmates

For years, it was more cost-effective for the county to maintain the existing work-release buildings, but as repair and maintenance costs continued to rise it made more fiscal sense to build a new facility, Washington County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Jake Schultz said.

The Washington County Commission approved the project in September 2017.

Aerial photo of Purgatory Correctional Facility noting the location where work-crew housing is being built, Hurricane, Utah, March 1, 2018 | Photo courtesy of the Washington County Commission, St. George News

“Those buildings were initially intended as a temporary solution but that was 16 years ago,” Washington County Sheriff’s Lt. Dave Crouse said.

Purgatory’s inmate worker program is one of the best in the state, Schultz said.

It also provides revenue to offset some of the costs of incarceration.

Due to a lack of beds within the state prison system, Washington County is one of 21 counties in Utah that contract with the state to house state inmates – and has for years, according to a 2015 report prepared by MGT of America under contract with the state Prison Relocation and Development Authority.

Approximately 25 percent of all state inmates are in county jails, which are paid a little more than $50 per day per inmate to house them.

Washington County Sheriff Cory Pulsipher said that housing state inmates at Purgatory goes back to the beginning, during construction of the jail, which was completed in 1998 at a cost of nearly $11.6 million.

It was designed as a larger facility to accommodate Washington County’s projected growth, he said, with the intention of it lasting 20 or 30 years.

To help offset the cost of operating the facility, the county contracted with the state to house 200 inmates under the assumption that the county inmate population would increase and within 10-15 years the facility would no longer have room to house state inmates.

“The bottom line is that the cost to run the jail remains the same,” Pulsipher said, “regardless of whether we’ve got 200 inmates in there, or 400, the staffing levels, utilities and so on remain the same.”

The growth in the jail population hasn’t reached projections, he said, “(which is) amazing, and we are still housing 140 state inmates, when the original contract was for 200.”

That contract has continued largely due to the benefits associated with housing state inmates, Pulsipher said, adding that those inmates are trusted enough to work in parts of the jail like the kitchen, laundry, garden and so on. Additionally, the inmates bring with them the experience needed to perform the duties – experience gained because state inmates serve longer sentences than county inmates.

“Having those positions filled by the state inmates saves the county a great deal of money,” the sheriff said, “and the operating costs are being shared by housing the state inmates, so those costs aren’t falling back onto the taxpayer.”

Additionally, “the jail was paid off last year and those modular trailers in use now are falling apart,” he said.

Hughes Construction Inc. is the contractor and Naylor Wentworth Lund is the architect.

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