Washington County Commission approves contract for Purgatory Correctional Facility expansion

Washington County Sheriff Nate Brooksby speaks to the Washington County Commission about the pending expansion of the Purgatory Correctional Facility, St. George, Utah, Oct. 18, 2022 | Photo courtesy of Washington County / CEC, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — After several months of work and consultation, the Washington County Commission is moving ahead with a much-needed expansion at the Purgatory Correctional Facility.

This 2018 file photo shows the housing unit for state prison inmates at Purgatory Correctional Facility’s Community Corrections Center, Hurricane, Utah, Oct. 15, 2018 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

The commission approved a contract Tuesday afternoon with the Sletten Construction Company for three projects at the county jail. This includes the building of a new pod with dedicated mental health and medical facilities, as well as a remodel of the jail’s booking area.

“Essentially we’re going to be adding a new wing to the Purgatory Correctional Facility – specifically for medical and mental health,” Washington County Sheriff Nate Brooksby told the commission. “Inmates that are detoxing from drugs and alcohol, or those with mental health issues, those individuals are typically brought into our booking area so our medical staff and licensed clinical social workers have close proximity to them.”

However, the situation at the jail was complicated by the pandemic when inmates became sick with COVID-19 in 2020. Beds were quickly taken up with the sick and left the jail “bursting at the seams,” Brooksby said.

This necessitated a need for more space, which resulted in Tuesday’s approval of the construction contract. Plans call for a pod with 32 cells, most of which will be “double-bunked.” This will provide up to 60 new beds for the jail.

The new wing will provide a better space for inmates in the throes of detoxing or suffering mental health issues, Brooksby said.

The Washington County Commission, St. George, Utah, Oct. 18, 2022 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“We have to keep a very close eye on them,” the sheriff told St. George News following the commission meeting.

“We have to have medical staff engaging with them on a regular basis, whether it’s vitals or doing screenings for mental health. And so those types of inmates come in and they’re putting them in the booking area (for) its close proximity. They’re checked on every 15 minutes by a deputy or medical staff. So high demand inmates. But that space is very limited in booking right now. So with this medical expansion, it’s really going to give us a lot more wiggle room for those types of inmates.”

Along with the expansion, work on the booking area of the jail will add additional space for inmates and office space for county employees.

In addition to the increased space, Commissioner Gil Almquist said it also will allow sick inmates to be isolated in the case of future outbreaks, enhancing the well-being of not only the inmate population but also the Sheriff’s deputies and jail staff in general.

“The extra space will really help out,” Brooksby said.

2018 file photo for illustration only of dorm that is scheduled to house 60 inmates at Purgatory Correctional Facility’s Community Corrections Center, Hurricane, Utah, Oct. 15, 2018 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

The County Commission is using money from the American Rescue Plan Act to fund the expansion of the county jail. If that weren’t available, Washington County Administrator Nichole Felshaw said the county would have needed a bond for the expansion.

The expansion is estimated to run $12-$14 million with ground potentially being broken sometime next spring, Brooksby said.

Once underway, construction is slated to last around two years.

In other business, the Washington County Commission committed $1 million in tourism funds to the Washington City Wheels Park project.

The Wheels Park is planned to be a park focused on skateboarding, cycling and similar wheel-based activities. The city has bonded $10 million to the project and city officials estimate ground will be broken on the project sometime between summer 2023 and spring 2024.

Near the conclusion of the commission meeting, a public comment period was allowed for members of the public wishing to further address the commissioners regarding lingering concerns over the House 72 election results.

The Washington County Commission listens to a member of the public speak about House 72 election results concerns during a public comment period, St. George, Utah, Oct. 18, 2022 | Photo by Mori Kessler. St. George News

While comments largely focused on issues surrounding the House race results and the reliability of the machines used in the election process, the majority of those who spoke also thanked the commission for allowing time for public comment. It is a facet of commission meetings they say has been severely lacking and has left county residents feeling unheard.

The comment period was limited to 10 people who had to register to speak online beforehand and were given two minutes each to speak to the commission.

Whether a public comment period becomes a fixture of commission meetings moving forward, and what those future periods may look like, is a work in progress, Commission Chair Victor Iverson said.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2022, all rights reserved.

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