TAWAS CITY – In an effort to keep public interactions at a minimum with trustee inmates at the Iosco County Sheriff Department, a new security gating system will be installed at sheriff department parking lot.

The gating system, however, should not impact parking in front of the jail for the public, according to Jail Administrator Capt. Scott Frank.

He said the gates, which will cost nearly $26,000 and will be paid entirely from a Homeland Security grant, must be installed before May for the grant funding to be used for the project.

“It’s two big gates, one basically at the front side of the sheriff’s office, and one at the back, just beyond the main entrance to the county building,” he said. 

The project will be conducted by Lakeshore Contracting of Tawas City, which will furnish the fencing aspect of the project. St. James Electric of Tawas City will conduct the electrical hookups for the gating system.

Frank said there are a few reasons for the new gating system to be installed. He said one is to keep the public from driving around in the sheriff department section of the parking area of the county building facility.

“We have a lot of public that drive around the back of our building,” Frank said. “It’s a secure area and we have inmates back there. We have had people in the past drop off candy, drop off food, just because they feel sorry for inmates outside who can’t get that.”

Frank explained that inmates outside of the jail facility are called “trustees” who have gained special privileges to do work around the jail, such as landscaping, and are often outside working on various projects.

He said although the public may think that is OK to drop off a treat for inmates working outside, it is not and is in fact illegal. He said people could be prosecuted for providing the items, which are considered contraband at the jail.

“We have had people drop off cigarettes and that is one thing that they don’t see as being illegal, but being in a jail it’s illegal,” he Frank said. “I have had an 85-year-old gentleman buy a meal and give it to an inmate mowing the lawn just because he felt sorry for him and thought he needed it. But as innocent as that is – which is no real harm in that case – it could be contact giving illegal drugs or illegal weapons.”

Frank said it is also for the inmates’ safety, as some in the public would wish to do harm to them because they are incarcerated.

A second reasoning is to keep the parking lot open for emergency vehicle activities. Frank said during a recent event at the city park, located across the street from the county building, people were using the emergency vehicle parking spaces for parking for the event.

Frank said the gate will not be along US-23, and will extend along the front of the building south. Frank said he is unsure how the project would impact an upcoming repaving project that officials hope to conduct in the spring, but said that he didn’t think it would impact it much.

“We want to get the poles and electricity part of the project in before the county gets the new parking lot, so we don’t have to tear up the new parking lot,” he said. “I think it’s a great project to help protect the county’s investment in our vehicles and also protect the inmates as best we can, with zero out of pocket costs for the county.”