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Construction begins on new, modernized Lee County Jail

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Ground was broken for a new law enforcement center in Lee County on Wednesday, but it didn’t come cheap: the cost of the project is estimated to be $18 million. Officials believe it’s an investment that will pay off in the long run.

Lee County Sheriff Joe Simonton says today’s groundbreaking, at a 3-acre site at 240 E. Progress Drive, has been a long time coming.

“We just couldn’t wait for this day to get here, and it’s here, thank God,” he said. “It came about by just problem solving. ‘How are we going to get this done?’ We know the need for it. We are failing jail standards every single time we do the inspections, and sooner or later, we are going to get fined each day. We are going to have to start bringing inmates to other jails.”

Built in 1970, the old facility at 122 W. Third Street suffered from a long list of problems.

“Ventilation problems, leaks… the bad plumbing, the structure that was falling down, having administrative offices below the jail, all of that is going to be taken care of,” Sheriff Simonton said.

Those issues cost Lee County $1 million a year. To hold an inmate in Lee County costs $65-$75 a day.

“The building we are in now is built for 66 inmates,” Sheriff Simonton said. “We can really only hold around 41 inmates, because of the different classifications – the sentenced, the un-sentenced, the witnesses, the suspects, the females, the males – all different classifications have to [be separated.]”

The new facility will hold around 80 inmates.

“It’s just amazing, it really is,” Simonton continued. “I mean, in this day and age, [with] what’s happening in law enforcement nationwide right now. Thankfully, we don’t have that problem in Lee County, and hope we never have.”

The new Law Enforcement Center should be finished by the Fall of 2019. Male inmates will remain at the old jail and women will be held at other facilities until the new building is finished.

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