Local News

Moore commissioners OK jail expansion

Posted June 12, 2009 6:54 p.m. EDT

— Moore County commissioners voted 3-2 this week to expand the county jail, despite growing opposition to building the new facility downtown.

Construction on the $33 million project is scheduled to begin by next January and take a couple of years to finish.

The existing jail has 126 inmates in a half-century-old downtown facility designed to hold no more than 110. The two-story, 79,000-square-foot addition will have 192 beds, and authorities will continue to use 68 beds in the old jail.

Capt. Eddie Johnson of the Moore County Sheriff's Office, who oversees the jail, said the current jail is obsolete in both physical and safety features.

"I've got leaks in the sewer system (and) the piping system," Johnson said. "The new, state-of-the-art jail will have all the safety features up to date."

Such assurances don't calm nearby residents like Meg Russell, whose backyard is adjacent to the jail. She and others don't like the idea of a bigger jail in the middle of Carthage, which is striving to maintain a down-home feel to its downtown.

"A lot of people in town have said they can move it elsewhere," Russell said.

Residents also have expressed concern for the safety of students at Carthage Elementary School, which is located less than a mile from the jail.

Johnson said safety concerns are misplaced. Many county jails across North Carolina have expanded in recent years – Harnett County dedicated its new 106,000-square-foot jail and sheriff's office in Lillington this week – and most of the jails are located downtown, he said.

"You're more likely to get struck by lightning, I think, than to have someone escape from the detention center," he said, adding that he couldn't recall a single escape from the jail in the 27 years he's worked for the Moore County Sheriff's Office.

Opponents of the downtown jail expansion plan to meet next week, but a time and place haven't been set.