The Marion County Sheriff’s Office is using a mobile jail cell to educate the public about life behind bars.
Sheriff Chris Blair said the “jail on wheels” is one of several efforts to educate the community.
The cell was made to the typical specifications of a jail cell, which is roughly the size of the standard utility trailer used to build the mobile jail, and comes complete with a stainless toilet and sink combo, bunk, barred door and razor wire around the roof.
Blair said this effort was in response to numerous calls he has received from parents and citizens.
“We don’t have a scared-straight program here,” he said. “So, we figured we could try something new and bring the cell to them.”
He also said there is no tangible way to measure crime prevention, but initiatives to educate the public are valuable ways to connect with the community.
The program was completely funded by the sheriffs office and built with prison labor.
“The taxpayers didn’t have to spend a dime on this effort,” said Capt. James Pogue, the Marion County Sheriff’s Office public information officer.
Pogue said it was one of the department’s goals to give this unique opportunity a try without having to call on taxpayer dollars. Prisoners who posed a low-level security risk even helped complete the project.
Not only is the trailer outfitted with everything a typical prisoner has, but it also includes a display of general information, such as prisoner and meal costs per day and other general crime and housing statistics.
“We’re trying to make it look as real as possible to give people a true sense of what the living conditions will be like,” Pogue said. “And believe me, it’s not that comfortable.”
Blair said this idea was not just about going to schools and talking to kids. The sheriff’s office will also take it to public areas like malls and parks to help educate minors and adults alike.
“This wasn’t an effort for just kids,” Blair said. “This was made to show everyone what a prisoner’s living conditions [look like] and to say, ‘If you screw up, this could be you.’”
Ernie Martinez, a Marion County resident and father of two, said the cell is an interesting and innovative idea.
“It doesn’t seem like there is a huge juvenile crime problem in this area,” he said. “But it can never hurt to give people the information and let them decide.”
Martinez also said because the sheriff’s office raised all of the money for the project, it helps him believe they are concerned with responsibly spending taxpayer money.
“It’s impressive they raised all the money themselves,” he said. “Not only is it a pretty cool idea, but it doesn’t cost anyone anything.”
This is just one of the many ideas Marion County has been implementing in their effort to stop crime before it happens. Blair said it’s more beneficial to educate rather than to punish.
“Crime prevention and education are invaluable tools to law enforcement,” he said. “The sheriffs are just as concerned with educating the public as protecting them.”