His experience with a new jail: Saginaw County Sheriff William Federspiel describes the layout of his Michigan county’s previous jail during his presentation on Thursday at the Vigo County Public Library. Staff photo by Joseph C. Garza
His experience with a new jail: Saginaw County Sheriff William Federspiel describes the layout of his Michigan county’s previous jail during his presentation on Thursday at the Vigo County Public Library. Staff photo by Joseph C. Garza
With near 50 people in the basement of the Vigo County Public Library on Thursday evening, a Michigan sheriff shared how he and his county were able to build a jail comparable to the one planned in Vigo County for nearly half the price.

And while he prefaced most answers with something akin to "Saginaw and Vigo counties are different and have different needs," Sheriff William Federspiel spent more than two hours spelling out how he was able to build a 511-bed jail for roughly $38 million, $26 million less than the projected cost a 485-bed jail in Vigo.

Federspiel said by choosing to construct a three story jail with a pod system using pre-fabricated steel cells instead of a sprawling single-level jail, the facility is able to use central command stations on levels two and three to monitor offenders more efficiently.

That efficiency is key, Federspiel said, as it allowed him to reduce staff, through attrition, by more than 30 percent. The money saved on staffing is enough to pay the bond issue without raising taxes, he said.

Pat Goodwin, independent candidate for Terre Haute mayor, asked Federspiel if a multi-level jail is typically more cost effective than a single-level jail with a larger footprint.

"I've found that it is for us, yes. I looked at a General Motors transmission plant that was vacated 25 years ago. It was long, linear, and from a cost perspective we thought it could save us money," Federspiel said.

"But in the end we didn't feel it could work because we would have to transport prisoners and would require me to increase my staff. ... So for us the vertical design works best."

Federspiel's comment on transportation sparked a follow up question about the cost and long-term viability of transporting offenders to and from a courthouse from an offsite jail.

Federspiel said transporting offenders was a non-starter for him as he never wanted the liability and cost of vans and "excessive" transportation details.

"Let's say you build a new jail two miles away, what are you going to do with the old one, tear it down?" Federspield asked, receiving but shrugs in return from the audience. "I don't think you can, you're going to have to staff it in some way and I'll tell you why.

"When you're transporting them to court from your new headquarters and jail, you're going to have to staff something here because you can't just drop them off in the parking lot. And that was a problem we looked at too. And my answer was that we couldn't because we'd have to staff a sally port even if I tore the rest of the jail down."

But the biggest question of the night, and the reason Vigo County council member Chris Switzer invited Fedespiel to speak, the sheriff couldn't quite answer; how is a similar project costing Vigo taxpayers nearly $30 million more than it is six hours away in Michigan?

Put to Federspiel nearly an hour into the presentation by Charlie Williams, the sheriff was taken aback at the estimated $64 million price tag.

"Wow, who owns the land" Federspiel joked. "That's a good question. Now admittedly I don't know everything about your process here but let me ask you a question; did you pick an architect out of the sky or did you have multiples come in and give you a bid?"

"We don't really know," Williams shot back.

"OK, well that would be a start. I'm not here to criticize because I don't know everything, but like I've said, if you're shopping for a new car do you just go to the first dealership you see or shop around?" Federspiel asked.

"Because that's what I do with my money and that's what we did in Saginaw with the county's money."
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