Jail Studies and Summary Information

Discussions for a new or upgraded jail facility have spanned over a decade, specifically beginning in 2009. This document lays out how much progress Walton County has made in understanding the need, the costs, and the proposed locations for the new or updated facility. To understand the project’s scope, Walton County has conducted several feasibility studies and received several recommendations from the grand jury that convenes to observe jail operations every year.

Precision Planning Inc. (PPI) completed the first feasibility study in December 2009. The study proposed three (3) options for locations and estimated costs associated with each site.

  • Option one (1) proposed a renovation of the north addition of the jail for $29 million.
  • Option two (2) proposed a renovation of the south addition of the jail for $30 million.
  • Option three (3) proposed a new build in the form of an 800-bed facility for $50-$60 million.

In 2009, the grand jury noted the concern of gang activity within Walton County. They offered suggestions on addressing the issue, including the possibility of forming a Gang Task Force.

 Although there were no feasibility studies done in 2010, the grand jury convened in July 2010 to tour the jail. The grand jury noted the need for a Gang Task Force following the suggestions given in 2009. The grand jury also commented on the number of inmates in the jail. At the time, there were 392 inmates in the 376-bed facility.

 In May 2011, the Board of Commissioners conducted a study to determine the practicality of building a new facility at the South Madison Avenue location. The preliminary subsurface exploration determined the site to be very wet and unstable. S&ME of Duluth, Georgia, prepared the report and presented it to the Commissioners in May 2011.

Precision Planning, Inc. completed a new feasibility study detailing the costs and locations of each site plan.

  • Option one (1) proposed an addition to the existing facility totaling $29,125,500.
  • Option two (2) new facility south of the existing jail totaling $28,975,000.
  • Option three (3) new facility at Hammond Drive and Church Street $28,790,000.   

PPI also provided a preliminary staff analysis for the new jail.

The yearly grand jury visit occurred in July 2011. A need for an upgrade to the current facility or the building of a new jail became apparent as 432 inmates were inhabiting the 376-bed facility. The grand jury acknowledged the previous studies for the new jail and further emphasized the need. The report analyzes the two sites in the study and firmly explains why the land adjacent to the Walton County Government building is the best choice for the new jail. The grand jury report states, “There have been two propositions on building a new facility. One option is to build directly behind the newly renovated part of the jail. There are limitations to this land. It is restricted wet marshland. It is projected to cost 2.5 million dollars just for preparations of the land before construction of the new facility can even begin. The current location makes it impossible to build vertically because it will interfere with the planes’ fly zone. The other option is to build on the property next to the courthouse. The acreage of land can accommodate a jail to house inmates for the next 30 years without danger of overcrowding. It will also cut costs in transporting inmates to and from the courthouse. The proposed land would be within walking distance of the courthouse. The initial price of this land is significantly less than the wet marshlands.”   

The Walton County Board of Commissioners signed a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) resolution on July 5, 2011. Walton County citizens voted for a referendum to fund the jail through SPLOST dollars.

Per the 2011 referendum, SPLOST projections for 2012 included $27 million for the “acquisition, construction and equipping of a new jail or jail expansion,” as stated under item F.

To help communicate the need for more space, the Walton County Sheriff’s office started disseminating daily population reports. The population at the time included 391 inmates with 376 beds. The grand jury noted the need for more cameras. They called into question the age of parts of the jail. Citing that portions of the jail are old, which incur high maintenance costs.

With this knowledge, the Board of Commissioners commissioned Precision Planning Inc. to complete a project site evaluation and recommendation on where to build the new facility.

  • Option one (1) new facility at East Church Street and Hammond drive for $28,610,000.
  • Option two (2) new facility at Hwy. 83 and Piedmont Parkway for $28,710,000.
  • Option three (3) new facility at Hwy. 78 and Cherry Hill Road $28,860,000.
  • Option four (4) new facility at Hwy. 11 for $29,030,000.
  • Option five (5) new facility south of existing jail at South Madison Avenue at $30,035,000.

By 2013, the overcrowding of the jail becomes untenable and is managed by utilizing Barrow and Oglethorpe Counties to house inmates for a daily fee.

The grand jury also questions the building design and the newer addition that was added in 2004. The addition “was not designed to the same layout. It has long hallways, and the cells doors are laid out in a hallway format, making it impossible for the officer in the satellite tower to see into each cell without physically walking past each cell in each pod of blocks. This requires more manpower to operate and makes for a much more dangerous environment for the officers. This layout creates easier opportunities for inmates to do things the officer does not have sight to. All of the inmate suicides have occurred in this wing.” The grand jury goes on to state concerns about the overcrowding and federal mandates. “Overcrowding is being managed at the jail, but there are limitations to the current process. The Federal Government has the right to take over the jail from the County and mandate jail expansion and or improvements through the Courts. In these cases, the county citizens are responsible for the financing and have no influence in jail oversight or a voice in the type of facility to be designed. In 2012, the jail averaged 1.2 inmates to each bed. There are currently four (4) site plans presented for the jail expansion, which will be funded by a SPLOST tax already passed by vote of county citizens.”

  • Option one (1) existing site Addition of 448 beds.
    1. This location has no room for future expansion.
  • Option two (2) Hwy. 11 and Mount Paron Church Rd.
    1. This location is near two (2) pump stations but will incur higher transport costs.
  • Option three (3) East Church Street and Hammond Drive.
    1.  This location provides for shorter transport of inmates but has opposition from residents over the area.  
  • Option four (4) Hwy. 78 and Cherry Hill Drive.
    1.  The grand jury strongly recommends this site.

During this year, PPI also provided a project site evaluation in July. Their cost estimates and location analysis include four (4) sites.

  • Option one (1) new build on Church Street and Hammond Drive for $28,900,000.
  • Option two (2) new build on Cherry Hill Drive for $29,150,000.
  • Option three (3) renovation-A North of Existing jail on South Madison Avenue for $29,825,000. Renovation-B South of Existing Jail for $30,575,000.
  • Option four (4) new build on Hwy. 11 for $29,320,000.

In 2014, several private companies entered conversations for the right to bid on the new jail building. Jim Jordan of IPG submitted a letter stating his company could build a jail for $25 million, which was less than 50% of the $50-60 million estimate. Studio 8 also submitted a letter to bid the 480-bed expansion for $24,000,000.  

The observation of the grand jury during 2014 included a discussion of adding more boots on the ground and hiring more staff.

In 2015, Mark Goldman & Associates completed a feasibility study. The study included an evaluation of the 1987 housing as well as the 2004 edition.

1987 Jail Housing

  • Poor visibility from Control Room into Housing Units - blocked by door
  • mechanisms
  • No visibility into cells and dormitories
  • No glazing in cell doors - safety hazard
  • No natural light in units except skylights
  • Overly bright/overly noisy
  • Poor visibility of recreation yards
  • Only one isolation cell per Pod
  • No Program spaces adjacent to or within Pods
  • Electrical capacity maxed out
  • Copper pipes failing -- water drips through pinholes in copper pipes in
  • ceilings - no access panels

2004 Jail Addition

  • Cells not adequately suicide-resistant - more suicides in these units; to
  • remedy Maintenance is installing a 2nd round of improvements
  • Control Room is too large - not conducive to
  • efficient & effective management and
  • observation of inmates
  • Corridors excessive in size
  • Translucent glazing in cells
  • Only one padded cell in this Tower
  • No Program spaces adjacent to Pods
  • Door locks easily jammed by inmates
  • Constant leaks from the Housing Units and adjacent yards to
  • Maintenance, Storage and Records areas below the Units

During its yearly visit in 2015, the grand jury made several observations on the jail’s facility and personnel. Observations including the jail being understaffed, evidence storage being too small, and no holding area to house “transsexual inmates.”

The safety of the jail was also a concern for the grand jury. “The holding area for inmates who are on suicide watch needs improvement.” Concerns also included the layout of the new wing, with observations stating that it was poorly designed and posing a hazard to inmates and staff. Also noted was the need for additional cells eliminating the need to house inmates in other counties and saving money on housing and transport.

The grand jury of February 2015 made a recommendation to purchase land at Hwy. 78 and Cherry Hill Drive for the site of a new jail. This was one of four properties the County was considering for purchase at the time. At this point, nothing had been done in regard to jail expansion or construction. This grand jury’s recommendation was to form an investigative committee to determine what the plans for SPLOST funds were being collected and ensure they were being spent as presented to the voters in 2011.

In 2016, the jail was still considered overcrowded by the grand jury. Again, the grand jury called the layout into question. The grand jury noted that the layout made it impossible to see in the doors of the cells without entering the cell block. The committee was afraid for the officers entering the cell block, citing that the inmates in this area were being held for more serious crimes.  According to this grand jury, the need for a new jail or remodeling of the old jail was an urgent matter. Stating that “In order for the County to continue to provide a safe facility for the inmates and officers, the decisions should be made soon.”

In 2017, several companies were still looking at jail sites. Chairman Kevin Little contacted Rosser and New South to inquire about jails. He also toured Effingham County.  

The grand jury in 2017 continued to stress the overcrowding issue. The jail was holding 408 inmates at the time of the visit. Gender-neutral inmates were being housed in Gwinnett County because of the lack of space at the Walton County Jail. The grand jury encouraged the Board of Commissioners to include the Sheriff’s Department in future planning stages to eliminate potential life-threatening hazards to inmates and jail personnel. The committee also stated that “proper attention should be given to facilities which will benefit the community and offer positive influence for children as they grow (Parks and Community facilities) as well as facilities which offer protection (Jail facility improvements or replacement).”     

The grand jury completed the assessment of the new jail with a few recommendations and observations. Noted was the overcrowding of the current facility with 429 inmates. Also noted was the need for more protected psychological housing and the restricted vision of the officers in this cell block.

In 2019, the grand jury found the County jail was severely understaffed. The committee states, “The pay is not competitive with surrounding counties. The County jail is not only understaffed but very overcrowded. In 2012, we paid one-cent sales tax for a new jail. In all that we saw is that we are in desperate need of a new jail, more staff, and much better pay.”

2021 ushered a renewed interest in building the jail.

On January 19, 2021, a proposal for programming study for a new jail from Studio 8. The study would include a facility for 1,000 beds that could be expanded to 2,000 beds in the future. This study would cost the County $8,000. The following proposal from Mark Goldman & Associates, Inc. came ten (10) days later to update the feasibility study. Mark Goldman & Associates, Inc.’s fees included $78,950. Additional fees to hold public meetings ranged from $6,000 to $600 or $175 per hour rate.  

Several bids for feasibility studies were submitted in the month of February. Precision Planning Inc. submitted a proposal for $57,500. Pieper O’Brien’s proposal to update the feasibility study would cost the County $47,855.

On February 21, 2021, the bid on cost projections from CPS for 668 beds would cost $249,326 per square foot totaling $108,765,535. Precision Planning proposed an hourly rate to design the public safety complex.

  • Three (3) 224-bed housing pods with expansion to 2000 beds
  • Jail support
  • Jail administration
  • Two courtrooms

CPS continued to send information on the company through email.

On March 9, 2021, a study group convened to determine the need to conduct a new feasibility study. The study group, comprised of David Thompson, Tim Shelnutt, Bo Warren, Joe Chapman, and Wade Harris, decided against conducting a new feasibility study.

PPI and CPS both updated their cost associated with the project. PPI’s new cost estimates did not include the sheriff’s administration building and costs approximately $93,524,970. To build the Walton County jail to the Coffee County jail specifications costs approximately $88,166,676. In July, PPI updated their cost estimates again, with the sheriff’s administration building added at $113,815,995.

In July, the study group approached George Baker and discussed the detention pond behind the government building and the easement across the conservancy strip.

With the proper discussion in place about the surrounding land, PPI submitted costs to build the Walton County Public Safety Complex and Hammond Drive and Church Street.

  • $113,815,995 (hard costs)
  • $10,578,040 (soft costs)
  • $5,000,000 (contingency)
  • 129,394,035 (total)

At the beginning of August, Chairman Thompson started research on bond pricing for $100,000,000. STIFEL, a bonding company, provided information for a 30 year fixed bond at a 1.64% interest rate. With this interest rate, the County would incur a $4,825,200 payment. To fund this bond, Chairman Thompson projected a 1.57 millage rate increase. He ran the numbers to determine the cost of the increase to Walton County taxpayers.

Average Home Value

  • $100,000 would cost $62.80 annually
  • $300,000 would cost $188.40 annually

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, there was little to no physical touring at the jail. In 2021, when the restrictions lifted, the grand jury toured the facility. During this tour, the committee noted 463 inmates at the time of the inspection.

At this point, the overall consensus of the committee is that “it would be better to rebuild than to attempt to repair it further. The grand jury committee objectively agrees with this assessment.”

The new Public Safety Complex and the new jail have become an urgent need for Walton County. The Board of Commissioners continues to take steps to alleviate the overcrowding of the current jail by looking at avenues they can to build and operate a new facility.

Jail Feasibility Studies & Summaries

2009 Jail Study
2011 Jail Study
2012 Jail Study
2013 Jail Study
2014 Jail Study
2015 Jail Study
2016 Jail Study
2017 Jail Study
2018 Jail Study
2021 Jail Study

Walton County Sheriff's Office Jail Grand Jury Reports

2008 Grand Jury Report
2009 Grand Jury Report
Aug 2009-Jan 2010 Grand Jury Report
May 2010 Grand Jury Report
2012 Grand Jury Report
2013 Grand Jury Report
2014 Grandy Jury Report
Aug 2015-Jan 2016 Grand Jury Report
April 2016 Grand Jury Report
April 2017 Grand Jury Report
May 2018 Grand Jury Report
June 2019 Grand Jury Report
July 2019 Grand Jury Report
Aug-Nov 2019 Grand Jury Report
January 2021 Grand Jury Report

Studies on Property Values

Study One
Study Two
Study Three