Detention Center Locks to be Upgraded

New cell door locks at the county detention center will eliminate the chances of inmates “popping” the locks and getting out.

County commissioners on Monday approved a request from Capt. Robert Creech of the detention center to change out 84 locks for $271,536.

Creech told commissioners that inmates have been disabling or blocking locks on cell doors, allowing them to leave their cells without permission. He noted that other jails have had similar problems that resulted in lawsuits when inmates and guard were injured.

“The inmates have been popping the locks in the jail and it’s become a safety concern for our Detention staff,” he explained.

In August 2022, four inmates, including three murder suspects, are alleged to have popped the locks on their doors at the Columbus County Detention Center and assaulted Joshua Johnson. A motive in the attack has not been released. Michael Lance, Darius Washington, Kwanaine Bellamy and Timothy Caine are all awaiting trial in that case. The State Bureau of Investigation and District Attorney’s Office investigated the assault.

Willo Products will provide the new locks, Creech explained. The firm’s proposal says the Willo Wedge lock gives an audible alarm and flashes a red light when a door does not properly lock. The lock system was designed to prevent “Popping’ or “sheeting” cell doors. It shreds foreign objects such as paper or cloth that are inserted in the door jamb to prevent the lock from catching.

The design of the receiver makes it almost impossible for an inmate to pack it with contraband to prevent the lock bolt from deadlocking,” the proposal said. “In the event they do pack the cavity while the door is open, there is a large void that would have to be packed before impacting the lock.

Creech said the locks will be paid for via revenues from housing out-of-county prisoners.

Since Willo is the only source for the locking mechanism, the project was not put out for competitive bids, Creech explained.

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Jefferson Weaver is the Managing Editor of Columbus County News and he can be reached at (910) 914-6056, (910) 632-4965, or by email at [email protected].