GREENFIELD — County officials finally agreed to a pricey upgrade to locks at the Hancock County Jail Tuesday, but some are still crying foul on how the bidding process was handled and whether a less intrusive, cheaper solution would have been better.
Hancock County Commissioners voted 2-1 to hire Crowder Detention Inc. at $345,000 to install new locks at the jail. While Commissioners Derek Towle and Tom Stevens said new technology will ease safety concerns, Commissioner Brad Armstrong voted against the measure, saying the county could save money by looking into other options.
At issue is what type of locks should be installed in the jail. Sheriff’s officials say a new lock, called AirTeq, should be installed to reduce the chance of inmates getting through doors. But the new lock comes at a high price, and installation would take several months with significant welding to the doors.
Armstrong, on the other hand, says the county could save time and money by simply updating the current version of the jail’s locks, called Folger Adam locks.
“I think we could have had options that would have been a better value to the taxpayers,”
But Towle and sheriff’s department officials were convinced Monday that the AirTeq locks are the way to go. The group of Hancock County officials spent the afternoon touring the Pendleton Correctional Facility, where new AirTeq locks are being installed.
The group was even closed in a jail cell temporarily and tried to break out.
“We have to protect the community from the prisoners, but we also have to protect prisoners from prisoners,” Towle said. “I don’t see how they can get out of that lock.”
New locks for the jail have been a hot-button issue among county officials for the past two months. Last year, a new touch-screen control panel was installed at the jail to replace 1988 technology and make the building more secure. The upgrade was purchased with a controversial bond issue.
Sheriff Mike Shepherd and Maj. Brad Burkhart said the new control panel alerted them to more problems with cell locks, which were also the originals that were installed when the jail was built in 1988. Burkhart said while no inmates had escaped, the situation was considered an emergency.
Sheriff’s officials contacted Westfield-based Crowder Detention Inc. While Burkhart said he originally thought the county would have to fix just a few doors, Crowder noted the entire jail needed an upgrade.
Besides, Crowder officials said, the jail’s current Folger Adams locks are no longer manufactured, so they recommended an entirely new model: AirTeq.
AirTeq locks are not visible on jail cell doors, so they cannot be tampered with, Burkhart said. But installing them here has one major complication: They will require significant modification of existing doors. Installation will take months.
While the sheriff’s department wanted Crowder to be hired immediately, county commissioners decided to see whether other companies could bid on the project. They hired DLZ, an engineering and consulting firm, to write bid specifications.
Crowder bid $345,000 for new AirTeq locks, and Tennessee-based Federal Locking Services bid $277,550 but did not include all of the locks in its quote.
But Armstrong, frustrated over the price, asked a third company to look over the bids. That company, CML RW, said a newer version of the jail’s current Folger Adams locks could be installed for a fraction of the cost.
“We were misled,” Armstrong said, because county officials were made to believe only one solution was available.
Armstrong has spent the past two weeks delving deeper into the issue. Representatives from Southern Folger and Legg Inc. also said an updated version of the jail’s current locks could be installed for less money and in a shorter period of time. And then Federal Locking Services, whose original bid included AirTeq locks, sent an email saying it could also install a newer version of the jail’s current locks for about $205,000.
Armstrong also talked to former county sheriffs and was convinced officials should consider a less-expensive remedy to the problem.
“From everything I’ve found in talking with them, I haven’t found where we’ve had any trouble until the last two years with these locks,” Armstrong said. “Nobody’s escaped; we haven’t had any issues.”
But sheriff’s officials and DLZ engineer Paul Downing insisted Crowder should be hired, saying the AirTeq locks were the safest route to go. The county should not hire Federal Locking Services, Downing said, because the manufacturer of AirTeq locks will not sell its product to Federal. Downing added that the installers of last year’s new computer control panel will not work with Federal.
The sheriff’s department even brought in a state expert to Tuesday’s meeting. Kevin Orme, director of facilities for the Indiana Department of Corrections, said cost-effectiveness should not necessarily be the No. 1 thing to consider when it comes to security.
While Orme has not looked at the jail’s locks, he pointed out that the state contracts with Crowder. He said the AirTeq system is being used in state prisons.
“Twenty-four years of doing this, I don’t know a better solution,” he said. “It’s that simple.”
When it became clear that Armstrong would be the lone dissenting vote on the issue, he insisted Crowder at least give the county a warranty on the AirTeq locks. A warranty was not required in the bid specifications, and Armstrong said he wishes commissioners had been more involved in writing bid specifications in the first place.
“Ultimately, the buck stops with us, but we relied on (DLZ and the sheriff’s department),” Armstrong said. “We specifically instructed them to get lots of different solutions and lots of different bidders, and they failed. They didn’t even know the specifications of the product they wanted.”
Crowder guaranteed a three-year warranty on the new locks.
Even though the purchase of new jail locks passed a major hurdle Tuesday, it will take time for the installation to be complete. It will take 12 to 16 weeks to order the locks and measure the doors, and an additional 61 working days to install the locks.
For some doors, it will take an entire day to install just one lock. Because of the welding that will be necessary, the installation will also require inmates to be moved to various parts of the jail while each section is worked on.