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Insider Access: Old Madison County Jail, no criminal charges required

MADISON COUNTY, Ala. - For more than 40 years, criminal charges within Madison County likely earned you a trip to the top of the courthouse.

Located on the ninth and tenth floors, the old jail opened its cells from 1966 to 2010.

Gone are the card games and commotion, but nearly a decade after the last inmate transfer, the bars and beds remain.

"This right here is one of the group environments where you had tables and just kind of, it is what it is," said Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong as he described one of the old jail's cells.

No carpets, no drywall, just concrete, steel and some incredible sights.

"This is one of the best views of all of Madison County right here," said Strong as he looked out the ninth floor windows.

The cells also saw some of the most infamous criminals in Huntsville history, from Jeffrey Franklin to the Southwest Molester.

"This was the who's who of the bad people in Madison County waiting on their day in court," said Strong.

Some were more daring than patient, though, as evidenced by the occasional jailbreak.

"They never thought, I would assume, that anybody would ever attempt an escape from here," said Strong. "And little did they realize, if you look back at how many people did try."

Overcrowding and violence also plagued the facility. When built, the jail was slated to hold 176 inmates, but was often at nearly 200 percent capacity.

Cramped conditions also caused tempers to flare, so bad at times that the tenth floor's D-2 cell quickly became known as "Thunderdome."

Eventually, a sizable new jail became home to Madison County's inmates. The commission hoped to convert the old digs into office space, but the pricetag to renovate the top two floors of the courthouse was too steep.

"The cost to remove the steel and to try to retrofit this was just way too much," said Strong.

Instead, the floors remain frozen in time, serving an undetermined sentence.