The big fix: Hampshire County jail undergoes long overdue renovations

  • A construction crew works on the renovation of a modular dorm at the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction in Northampton on Thursday, Dec. 27, 2018. As part of the renovations, a sprinkler system is being installed above and, below, many of the steel beams supporting the flooring are being replaced. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Hampshire County Sheriff Patrick Cahillane talks about the modular dorm renovations underway at the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction in Northampton on Thursday, Dec. 27, 2018. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Hampshire County Sheriff Patrick Cahillane, foreground, looks over plans for the modular dorm renovations underway at the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction in Northampton with a resident engineer from the Massachusetts Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance on Thursday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Daquan Kelly of Springfield, an inmate at the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction, speaks in the day room of one of the jail’s modular dorm units Thursday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The walls of this hallway have been removed for renovations to the sleeping quarters of a modular dorm at the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction in Northampton on Thursday, Dec. 27, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A view through the floor reveals one of the original wheels of a modular dorm that is undergoing renovations at the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction in Northampton on Thursday, Dec. 27, 2018. The modular units were wheeled in 30 years ago to house an increased inmate population but were not intended to serve longer than five years. Some of the steel beams, seen at upper left, have been replaced as part of the renovations. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The walls of this hallway have been removed for renovations to the sleeping quarters of a modular dorm at the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction in Northampton on Thursday, Dec. 27, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A view through the floor reveals one of the original wheels of a modular dorm that is undergoing renovations at the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction in Northampton on Thursday, Dec. 27, 2018. The modular units were wheeled in 30 years ago to house an increased inmate population but were not intended to serve longer than five years. Some of the steel beams, seen at upper left, have been replaced as part of the renovations. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • An exterior view of one of the modular dorm units undergoing renovations at the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction in Northampton on Thursday, Dec. 27, 2018. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Detail of the existing shower stalls in a modular dorm still in use at the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction in Northampton on Thursday, Dec. 27, 2018. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Existing shower stalls in a modular dorm still in use at the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction in Northampton on Thursday, Dec. 27, 2018. Another modular unit, mirroring this one, is now under renovation. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A typical room in one of the modular dorm units still in use at the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction in Northampton, shown Thursday, Dec. 27, 2018. A similar dorm unit, mirroring this, is now undergoing renovations at the jail with an expected completion date of April. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Hampshire County Sheriff Patrick Cahillane, right leads a tour of the modular dorm renovations underway at the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction on Thursday, Dec. 27, 2018. The modular unit, at right, sits on a small rise adjacent to the main building of the jail complex, at left, on Rocky Hill Road in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 12/27/2018 11:12:16 PM

NORTHAMPTON — In 1988, with the so-called “War on Drugs” resulting in skyrocketing incarceration rates, the state asked Hampshire County’s jail to take in 100 more inmates. The jail opened a modular building that year to accommodate those inmates — a building that had a five-year lifespan, but 30 years later is still in use.

For the past several years, the building has racked up health and sanitation violations as it continued to deteriorate beyond its intended use, but the state is now finally repairing it as part of a renovation project estimated to cost around $4.1 million.

“It’s going to improve it immensely,” Hampshire County Sheriff Patrick J. Cahillane said Thursday of the repairs and how they will address the “health and safety” risks the Department of Public Health has cited in hundreds of violations over the years.

Among the more serious of those violations were structural rot and mold in the showers of the two modular units that make up the building. The modular building, which houses up to 120 inmates, has concerned the state’s health department enough that it continues to ask to be apprised of its condition.

Now, work is already underway on one of the modular units, the “South” unit, where repairs are being made to the shower and bathroom area, roof and living units. New heating units, air conditioning units and fire sprinklers are also being installed. The updates will bring the building up to code under both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Prison Rape Elimination Act, and are expected to add at least 15 years of life to the units.

“It will address those issues that were brought up in those reports,” Cahillane said of the health department violations, looking on as workers rebuild the bathroom area that had previously proven such a challenge.

Previously there were 10 rooms in each modular unit for 60 inmates, with a guard control room separating the two units. The units will now each have six larger rooms once repairs are complete, with a guard stationed in the middle of those rooms. Each room will have a large window so the guard can easily look in, and a pay phone operated by the private jail-phone company ICSolutions.

Cahillane said he envisions the larger rooms — which will have more common space in the middle — being used for small-group programs. He gave as an example placing veterans together in one room, given that many of them face similar challenges.

“It wasn’t possible in what we had before,” he said.

The state’s Department of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance, or DCAMM, acquired the modular building in late 2015. Previously, the building was owned by the private company ModSpace, which leased it to the state.

Cahillane said the fact that the building was privately owned likely contributed to the length of time that it took to make lasting repairs.

“It’s very hard to hold private companies accountable in these situations,” he said. “And this was a small contract for them.”

Now that the state owns the building, Cahillane said DCAMM has been “phenomenal” in helping get the building repaired and up to code. Once repairs are complete in the South modular unit, there are plans to fix the North unit, thus completing repairs in the whole building. But on Thursday, Cahillane was not ready to say that those repairs on the North unit are a sure thing.

“It’s the commonwealth,” he said, describing the bureaucratic steps needed for the state to do that kind of work. “I never commit to anything I can’t guarantee … the plan is to bring it all up to code.”

While work is being done on the South unit, 50 inmates are all squeezed into the rooms located in the North modular unit. Finishing up a group session on Thursday morning, inmates’ reactions to the repairs were mixed.

“I think it’s conducive to our treatment,” said Daquan Kelly, 24, of Springfield. “Just to be more comfortable, and to feel more safe.”

Kelly and others did, however, say the current situation felt cramped as inmates all live in the other side of the building to make way for repairs.

“It is kind of claustrophobic now, there’s a lot of people who can’t deal with groups of people,” said Brian Dowland, 48, of Northampton. Dowland added that it is nice to see the repairs being made. “For years and years they’ve been patching it up.”

Eric Zulch, 37, of Cummington, was not thrilled about the new setup. He said he had concerns about privacy issues, with more people having to “bump elbows” bunking together.

“It’s kind of dehumanizing,” he said.

“I don’t think that it’s going to really matter,” Boston native George Moses, 45, said of the changes. He said for those focused on recovery, it would be nice to have more space to reflect.

“It’s difficult in such an open setting,” Moses said. He added that although he’ll feel safer knowing that a guard will be better able to observe the rooms, he worries he’ll have even more trouble sleeping because of the windows.

Repairs on the South unit are expected to be completed in April and the entire project is expected to take a year.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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