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'Filth everywhere all the time': 5 years ago, a Bibb grand jury said the county needed a new jail. Where is it?

Sheriff David Davis says the ‘band-aids’ they've been putting on the problems can only patch the jail’s scars and aging for so long.

MACON, Ga. — Five years ago, a Macon-Bibb grand jury toured the 40-year-old county jail and documented a slew of problems like mold, inadequate lighting, shoddy ventilation, and 30-40% of cells not locking.

They determined it was best to demolish the jail and build a new one. Five years later, there’s no new jail and no new talks of rebuilding.

Bibb County Sheriff David Davis says they’ve addressed some of those problems, but other ones have been overlooked and deferred maintenance for too long.

“Now we’re at a point that we absolutely have to do some things to make this building functional for a few years to come,” he said.

He says they’ve put ‘band-aids’ on some of the flaws pointed out in the 2017 grand jury report, including the locks.

In April 2021, after the stabbing death of Deputy Christopher Knight, the county set aside $3 million to ensure inmates are actually locked in their cells.

“It has made a significant improvement. We’re about halfway through that project,” said Davis.

He expects the project will be done by the end of 2022, but other complaints listed in the report relating to cleanliness like damaged ceiling tiles, mildew and problems with ventilation remain.

Former jail James King says he saw everything described in the report. He worked at the Bibb County jail for eight years until Oct. 2020.

“You had mold all over the showers. I mean, I have videos of rats just scurrying around in the showers at night. Filth everywhere all the time. You got to do something, you can’t have people work in that type of danger,” said King.

Some of those same concerns of ventilation and cleanliness were even highlighted in a report in Jan. 2021. The grand jury noted a ‘black mold-like substance’ on ceiling tiles and floor drains.

"That mold issue… It can't really be finished and rectified until you fix the venting issue,” said Davis. “You can have mold on ceiling tiles, and you can replace the ceiling tiles, and it's going to look pretty for a few months. But if you've not fixed the underlying issue of too much moisture coming through the vents, after a while, you're going to have some mold come back.”

Sheriff Davis says they’re looking for a comprehensive fix to the ventilation system, but it’s going to be large-scale project costing up to a million dollars.

“Anytime you have situations whether you have the pandemic going on or not, you want healthy air for people to breathe,” he said. “When you have issues, you know, in some instances like the mold, you have odors that get through the jail that can be found to circulate through the facility it’s not a pleasant environment. That's why we want to get on top of this and get that, that will be one of the things that we want to fix.”

Davis says the ‘band-aids’ can only patch the jail’s scars and aging for so long.

“The lifespan for the fixes that we have now… these heating and air conditioning, fixes in ventilation, some of the other things that we're doing… plumbing, all of that. The lifespan for that is about 10 years,” said Davis.

Which is about the amount of time Davis says it will take them to get a new jail on the SPLOST, approved by voters, and built.

13WMAZ asked him if it was something the commissioners should be discussing now. Davis says it’s something the community should be talking about. SPLOST funds are going to several different projects – none of which include the jail.

It’s a project that would need to be added to next SPLOST. So far, there are no new talks.

Mayor Lester Miller says he believes the county can wait to have conversations about a new jail until 2024 at the earliest; two years before the county is projecting to have a new SPLOST. Miller also says the county *must* have a new jail by 2030.

RELATED: Macon District Attorney Howard: No written reports of Bibb County jail inspection since 2017

RELATED: 2021 Bibb jail inspection report asks about staffing, makes recommendations for changes

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