'High priority' jail door project gets green light

BEAUFORT -- Beaufort County will spend nearly $50,000 to help shore up security at the Beaufort County Detention Center.

The county's Public Services Committee voted this week to pay Collins Construction Services of Savannah $48,842 to install a new security door at the rear of the Beaufort County Detention Center, a project county engineer Bob Klink described as "a very high priority." No specific installation date has been set.

For about two years, law enforcement officers have taken inmates from their squad cars to booking through an unsecured passage area, called a sally point, at the rear of the jail.

The area was designed to be secured by two motorized, 17-by-25-foot steel security gates, but the exit gate has been broken for the past two years, forcing the jail to leave both gates open.

"It is a security risk," said Phil Foot, director of the Beaufort County Detention Center. "It certainly makes us a little more vulnerable when we're loading and unloading prisoners. That's why this is such a high priority for the county."

Inmates have tried to escape through the unsecured arches of the sally port, Foot said.

"We've had two minor incidents where inmates in restraints have tried to run away," he said. "They didn't get very far."

When the new door is installed, officers will enter the drive behind the jail and communicate through an intercom with a detention center employee, who will open and close the gates.

Foot said the door will be wired with sensors and able to withstand the wear and tear of daily life at the jail.

"These doors are heavy-duty, and they need to be built to last," he said. "They'll go up and down, on average, about 50 to 100 times a day." The doors, built of thick-gauge steel, slide side to side on a motorized track.