Clay County Jail was built in 1965 during a time when the sheriff and one deputy operated the facility.
Events and issues were different then. Officers and their families often lived at the jail and the courts refused to become involved in daily operations. But during the 70s and 80s, one of seven cases heard in federal district courts involved prison rights issues. The list of five confinement condition issues has expanded to 16 and today the sheriff needs 10 full-time deputies to run the jail.
When Clay County Jail came under a federal court consent decree to improve conditions for inmates, Clay County government and law enforcement officials formed a seven-member task force and asked for technical assistance.
"You have to move forward or face fines and potential closure," Robert Aguirre, representative of the U.S. Department of Justice's National Institute of Corrections, said.
Aguirre met with approximately 20 people, ranging from private citizens to law enforcement officials, this past week and toured the jail. He presented his three-day review of the jail Monday at Clay County Court House and gave specific recommendations for planning a new institution based on his experience with NIC, which is a no-cost national resource for local jails.
NIC offers technical assistance, policy and standards formulation, training, research, evaluation and acts as a clearinghouse. Under technical assistance, local incarceration systems are assessed, planning of new institution workshops conducted, how to open a new institution workshops directed and jail designs reviewed.
Issues and conditions of concern today at the jail:
- Lack of storage. When prisoners enter through the garage, it is full of stuff because of a lack of storage, presenting several staff and inmate safety problems.
- Not enough secure doors. The door between the garage and jail is not secure because it was designed as an entrance to the sheriff's living quarters. Also, there are no "Sally ports" or air locks between different inmate environments.
- No cells for juveniles.
- Not enough preparation or dry storage area in kitchen. Freezers and warming compartment are located in garage. Hot water booster was added to the dishwasher and no true commercial dishwasher is available for sanitation purposes.
- Extensive amount of hot water pipes located in cat walk area where inmates eat, presenting a potential risk if pipes break.
- Inadequate lighting.
- No privacy in booking/attorney consultation/visitation area.
- Overcrowding and no classification system of inmates.
- No mental health available specialists for inmates.
- Medical doctor visits only once a week and no nurse is on staff.
- No dental or eye doctor available, presenting transportation risks to staff.
- Inadequate air ventilation exposes inmates and staff to communicable diseases.
- Some sinks and toilets are not working, so doors are left open for inmates to access working facilities.
- Not enough showers.
- Fire code violations: Not all smoke detectors function because inmates have broken them in order to smoke in a non-smoking environment.
- Dismal space for law enforcement officers to work.
- Dispatcher is sometimes called in for guard duty with no back-up, presenting chance of missing calls on the street.
- Jail is not ADA (Americans with Disabilities Accessible) compliant for staff or inmates.
Aquirre said after the task force identifies all the problems, they can begin to bridge the gap to correct the situation.
"Planning costs are about one percent of the total cost of a new jail. Planning is inexpensive compared to the consequences of inaction, "Aquirre said.
He said the last step is to hire an architect.
"It isn't just a jail you're looking at. It's the system. Each county has different requirements and demands for jails. It's your decision and no one from the outside should dictate to you what you should do," he said.
One of the first steps involved in the planning process is to decide which of three main design systems would work best in Clay County. The local jail currently operates under a linear/intermittent surveillance system which means cells are lined up in rows and the guard can only view cells he or she walks past. Other options include podular/remote surveillance and podular/direct supervision. With the podular system, a guard is located in a room with total viewing (through glass walls) and listening (through microphones) capabilities. Remote surveillance would place guards monitoring around the incarceration area while direct supervision would place guards in cell blocks with the inmates.
Another planning step the task force must decide is if the jail will house pre-trail prisoners and those eligible for bond, which in his opinion is not the most ideal situation but is the current local practice. It must also be determined if work release and weekender inmates will be at the jail.
"There is a tremendous amount of pressure on these inmates to bring back products," he said, "when cigarettes sell for $100 a pack or $5 a piece."
Aquirre said Clay County is probably the most involved community he has ever worked with on planning a new jail. The people he met with were very cooperative, had an interest and willingness to meet and discuss the issues, gave him complete access to tour the jail and provided him with all the information he needed.
However, he was disappointed that no public citizens attended his jail review.
"We want to educate the public on the desperate need for a new jail because we'll need to raise taxes to do it. It's a shame there's not one from the public to here," Clay County Commissioner Michael McCullough said.
Judge Ernest Yelton echoed his sentiments.
He asked, "Wouldn't you all agree that the issue is not how much more taxes it will take to build the new jail, but how much more taxes you'll have to pay if you don't build it?"
Everyone in attendance agreed.