Case Study: Amherst County Adult Detention Center

by JRSBlogWriterApril 23, 2018

Facility Manager Testimonial Amherst Prison: Improving Safety in Correctional Facilities
Checking in after six years in operation


Case studies are often completed just after a project is completed—when the client is still in the honeymoon phase, but wouldn’t you like to know how the client is faring after several years?

We decided to go back to Amherst Country Adult Detention Center and check in on how their AcornVac system has been working for them over the past six years.

AcornVac - Ease of Maintenance

One of the first things you will notice when you walk into this 380-bed facility is that it does not smell like your typical correctional facility. That is because they do not have to deal with common problems such as overflowing toilets and sinks, clogged drains, and leaking pipes.

 It is a difference that Kenneth Floyd - Maintenance Director, Blue Ridge Regional Jail Authority, notices when comparing Amherst to their other facilities that operate on traditional gravity plumbing.

Mainline backups are a big problem for correctional facilities, but Amherst has not experienced a single one since they started operation. Where other facilities with traditional gravity plumbing consistently experience a myriad of maintenance issues due to small leaks here and there, which can cause a deterioration of the building’s infrastructure over time, that has not been a problem at Amherst. Even if there were a hole in the piping, they won’t experience a waste leak because the system is under constant vacuum pressure. The system dynamics make it easy to pinpoint where the break occurred and maintenance can take fix it immediately.

We’ve had this plumbing system and the facility going on six years. …I believe it will add to the durability and longevity of your building, and overall I think it’s a great product,” said Tim Trenton - Administrator for Blue Ridge Regional Jail Authority and responsible for daily operation of all five of the Authority’s facilities.

Overall, Amherst staff found the vacuum system much easier to work on than a traditional gravity system. The vacuum system has more access points making it easier to troubleshoot where the problem is. With a traditional gravity system, it can take hours or even days to locate the source of a problem.

One maintenance assistant said that despite the complexity of the system, it is reliable and very simple to work on. So reliable that the AcornVac system at Amherst requires 50 percent less maintenance effort than traditional systems at other Authority facilities.

It is so clean and easy to work on that maintenance techs prefer working in the Amherst building rather than other buildings.

Amerherst Testimonial Quote

AcornVac - Security

While a cleaner system has obvious benefits for the maintenance crew, the features that make it easier to maintain also provide added security for the staff and prisoners.

Amherst can shut down any fixture, a complete section of the prison, or the entire facility. That means, when it is time for a shakedown, with the push of a button they can have the water cut off in seconds. Inmates quickly learned they could not flush contraband down the toilets.

A favorite trick of inmates is to flush blankets and sheets down their toilet to stop up the waste lines. With traditional plumbing systems, it is hard to pinpoint where the blockage is, let alone who created it.

With the vacuum plumbing system, the toilet's extraction valve closes and does not allow the contraband or material to reach the main line. When the debris is caught, the material is removed in minutes without mess or fuss, and without the need to even enter the cell. In the event something is small enough to slip past the extraction valve, it will simply make its way to grinders at the vacuum center.

Maintenance crews can pinpoint exactly where the blockage originated, access the extraction valve through the chase, and charge the inmate who created the problem.

Word quickly spreads through the population, and inmates stop attempting to flush contraband or sheets down the toilet. They know they will get caught and lose privileges such as visitation or commissary rights.

AcornVac - Cost Savings

Trenton is responsible for the prison system budget and said that one way he looks to save costs is through energy conservation. The fact that the toilets operate on just one-half gallon of water, and that they have control over the flushing, means that Amherst uses far less water which ends up saving him money in the long run.

There is also a cost saving in housekeeping. Because they do not have to deal with inmates flooding their cells and stopping up the toilets, Amherst only needs to have one maintenance person on site during daytime hours. Other sites require two people who primarily deal with plumbing issues.

For more information on vacuum plumbing’s impact on the Amherst Detention facility, you can access the full case study here.