New Jail Opens

Bigger and better, that's how law enforcement officials are describing the new jail in Sumter County. At a cost of about $3,000,000 and a one-cent sales tax increase, officials say it's worth every penny.

"It's safer! It will cut down on lawsuits," says Sheriff Johnny Hatter.

Safer, because at more than double the size of the old jail, the new one can house up to 136 people. Unlike the old jail which was built in 1963, the new facility has many modern security features. This includes: a number of in-door and out-door surveillance cameras and specially activated doors.

"I feel if somebody escapes out of here, somebody's got a lot of questions to answer to me because you've got to go through a lot of doors to get out of here," says Sheriff Hatter.

Another change involves visitation.

"We didn't have anything but bars before and people would stand up there and talk to the inmates through the bars. Sometimes if you weren't watching carefully people would try to slip things through the bars. Now all they can do is talk to them over the phone."

Sheriff Hatter also says with a more modern, specially designed suspect identification window, accusers no longer will have to worry whether or not suspects can see them. Something else which he says is a thing of the past is people being able to gather at the gate of the exercise area and talk to inmates. Sheriff Hatter says anyone caught doing this will now be arrested.

Currently, only 26 inmates are in the new jail. However, with more space Sheriff Hatter says more arrests warrants can be issued. With this being the case, he projects that the number of detainees will go up very soon.