By Sarah Hogsed
Register News Writer
Madison Fiscal Court magistrates have discussed for at least five years the need to expand the county’s detention center, built in 1990 to house 195 prisoners, but little action has been taken.
With the jail population now exceeding 260 inmates most days, the problem is not just hitting taxpayers in the pocketbook but also has caused problems with the jail’s twice-annual state inspections.
Records show Jailer Doug Thomas has made strides to improve the jail’s deficiencies following an October 2011 inspection in which the inspector reported the facility was “filthy” with serious security problems.
However, the jail continues to be cited for overcrowding, and the state Department of Corrections has pulled at least 300 inmates from the jail in the past two years, depriving the county of thousands in revenue, according to Thomas.
In Kentucky, 84 county and regional jails are overseen by the Local Facilities Division of the state Department of Corrections. Each jail is inspected twice a year with the first check announced and the second unannounced, according to the DOC 2011 Annual Report.
The inspection for a full-service facility includes 190 critical items that are evaluated to see if the jail is in compliance with the Kentucky Jail Standards.
If a jail is cited for a standards violations, the facility is given time to self-correct, according to Todd Henson, public information officer for the Department of Corrections. The state works closely with the jails to support any changes that need to be made, but if the jail is unable to correct problems then legal action may be taken, Henson added.
“... In extreme cases the Department seeks to close the jail,” Henson said via email.
Dismal 2011 inspection
When the detention center was inspected twice in 2010, while under the control of Jailer Ron Devere, there were few problems found by the state. Overcrowding was mentioned, and the jail population during the May and November 2010 inspections were 207 and 242, respectively.
Both inspections were conducted by C.L. Watts.
Devere responded to the handful of violations found both times by blaming the state’s classification system for the overcrowding in certain areas. He also mentioned he was leaving office Jan. 1 after 20 years in office.
“There will be a new jailer in 2011. There could be some transition issues with this,” Watts wrote in the comment section of his November report.
The first inspection under Thomas’ administration occurred March 29, 2011. The report also was prepared by Watts, and it showed just six violations and an inmate population that had jumped to 274.
However, the second 2011 state inspection, conducted Oct. 19, 2011, showed a completely different picture of the detention center.
Inspector Jackie Bodenhamer reported 41 violations at the jail, which were detailed in a six-page letter to Thomas. Some of the more serious violations were:
• During inspection, the control room operator unsecured both the exterior and interior door to the facility, which caused a breech of security.
• Locking mechanisms in 16 cells were jammed with spoons.
• “The jail is very dirty, unsanitary. Showers are covered in mold, overcrowded and hygiene complaints from inmates.”
• Overcrowding in 11 dorms, with insufficient chairs and tables for the number of people in dorms and an inmate on the floor in one of the two day rooms being used for permanent housing.
• Inmates were being segregated in the maximum security confinement areas based on race. Regulations state that the prisoner classification system shall prohibit discrimination based upon race, color, creed or national origin.
• Numerous plumbing problems throughout, including leaking and inoperable sinks, showers and commodes.
• Surveillance checks were being conducted and documented, however, they were random and noncompliant with regulations (in-person surveillance must be done every 20 minutes for certain classes of prisoners).
• Based on the amount of contraband observed, inspections were not being conducted as required. Contraband found during the inspection was a pop can, tobacco and smoking in a dorm.
• Sick call was performed once a week. State regulations require a minimum of three sick calls each week.
In Thomas’ corrective action plan dated Nov. 10, 2011, he said all electrical and plumbing problems had been fixed or were being fixed. He also said his staff had been instructed on conducting surveillance checks and making sure to not have the interior and exterior doors unlocked at the same time.
“Jail cleanliness has become a top priority and MCDC is becoming cleaner and more sanitary by the day,” Thomas wrote.
Thomas said inmates were not being segregated by race, but only for security reasons.
Finally, in response to the overcrowding problems, Thomas acknowledged it was a problem.
“Overcrowding is an ongoing issue that we continually address to the best of our abilities to accommodate inmates as best as possible,” Thomas wrote.
Jail shows improvement
The first inspection of 2012, conducted May 30 by Bodenhamer, showed marked improvement with the jail halving its number of violations from 41 to 21.
Bodenhamer noted in her report that she had made several visits to the jail since her fall inspection and had received positive comments from inmates on the cleanliness of the facility.
“The overall cleanliness of the jail is good,” she wrote. “Common areas including administration, hallways, control and corridors were clean and housing areas were also clean considering the overcrowding.”
Bodenhamer wrote that Thomas had worked hard to improve the facility.
“The jail has made great progress since the fall 2011 inspection,” she reported. “The jailer has painted showers, cells and dorms.”
In the Oct. 4 follow-up inspection, Bodenhamer found only four violations, three of which were for overcrowding.
Thomas said the state inspectors are aware that the number of prisoners in the jail is beyond his control, however, “I always get written up for it.”
Thomas did not want to speak in detail about conditions at the jail before he took over Jan. 1, 2011.
“The jail needed some work,” he said.
When asked about the discrepancy between the positive 2010 inspections and the dismal 2012 report with 41 violations, Thomas said he had wondered about that himself. He pointed out that a new inspector, Bodenhamer, was assigned in 2012 to this region.
Thomas said the state has worked with him to help improve the jail.
“(Bodenhamer) does a great job,” he said.
However, no matter how many repairs are made, areas cleaned and training improvements for his staff, Thomas said none of that solves the problem of too many prisoners and not enough beds.
In an Oct. 26 letter to Thomas, Jeff Burton, director of the Division of Local Facilities, warned that “the department will continue to remove state inmates from jails when the population exceeds 125% of the rated capacity.”
The Madison County Detention Center’s weekly population report Thursday showed the jail at 139 percent capacity, and Thomas said he expected more of the 51 state prisoners remaining at the jail to be transferred.
“We send the reports on Thursday, and (the state) comes Monday,” Thomas said. “I don’t know how many they’ll pull this time … maybe all of them, I don’t know.”
Sarah Hogsed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 624-6694.