By John L. Ross / Staff Writer
The eight Whitley County Jailer candidates who gathered at Williamsburg City Hall for a candidate forum all offered their ideas on running the county’s detention center Monday.
The UNITE-sponsored forum invited all 11 candidates to the forum. The eight who participated include Russell Smith, Dan Essek, Sandra Hoke, Melinda Moses, Tommy Hurst, Brian Lawson, Robert Taylor and Shawn Jackson.
The three who did not attend were Ralph Skidmore, Arnold “Gene” Young and Will Leach.
Moderator Angie Bowlin asked the prepared forum questions — the audience was not permitted to question the candidates due to time constraints.
(Editor’s note: The first installment of this story appeared in the Tuesday, May 6 edition of The Times-Tribune, while the second installment appeared in the Wednesday, May 7 edition of The Times-Tribune.)
Bowling continued questioning the candidates, directing the next topic to Moses first — and that topic concerned the commissary fund generated by the inmates and how it would be used in the Whitley County Detention Center if that candidate was elected to the seat.
Candidates were permitted two minutes apiece to answer the questions.
Moses said she feels the living conditions at the detention center are “poor” and that in some cases the mattresses made available are less than a half-inch thick. She added that the outfits worn by inmates often bear holes in them.
She feels that inmates “should not be treated any less than a person.”
She wants to use those commissary funds to help inmates get shoes, blankets, and outfits. “It needs to be done,” she said.
Hurst said he would create a centralized medical area to house inmates with crutches, stitches, or other medical impediments, noting that nurses who treat inmates “have to run all over the facility” to get to patients.
Hurst also said he would work with the library. “An idle mind is not a good thing for everybody,” he said, adding he would also include more recreation time for inmates.
Lawson wants “to buy hand sanitizer and put it in the cells” to stop the spread of MRSA and/or staph infections.
He also wants to invest that money to teach the inmates and “give them something to help them succeed once they leave the detention center.”
Taylor said that the Department of Corrections policy states the commissary fund must be used for the educational purposes of the inmates. He said that some of the things mentioned should be supplied to the inmates at the jail, but that the money is used for purposes “other than what it is intended for.”
He also added that inmates are allotted three hours of recreational time weekly.
Jackson said there had been some “good points made” by his fellow candidates concerning the commissary funds and agrees with the need for new bedding.
He added that the money in that fund is “for the well-being of the inmates.”
In that regard, Jackson said he wants to “expand with the garden program.”
“I’d like to take that money and buy small farm equipment to work in the garden,” he said. “(We’d have) a few implements and a lot of hands.”
He added that the commissary needed to be “boosted” and that it was “not near what it used to be.”
Jackson further added that if the commissary funds “are spent properly” expenses could be cut and needed items could be attained.
Smith said the commissary funds should be used to benefit all the inmates in the jail and that there were programs which could be included for the inmates’ well-being.
He also agreed about the necessity of the beddings and clothing for the inmates.
Essek said there should be two funds and that “the inmates’ money should be the inmates’ money and the jail money should be the jail money.”
He agreed with supplying the bedding and clothes and said he’d also get recreational equipment.
Essek added that he felt inmates “need to have time to do work,” and that three hours of recreation time a week is “insufficient.”
“(It should be) eight hours of work, eight hours of sleep and eight hours of recreation — that would be my idea,” he said.
Hoke said she had been an employee of the Whitley County Detention Center for 9 years, and explained that the jail’s commissary supplier had changed. She said with the former company, the jail “made no profit at all.”
Now that the commissary vendor has changed, Hoke said now the commissary “does great.”
She added that there are guidelines which must be followed.
Hoke further added that the mattresses in the detention center, as well as the blankets, had all been replaced. She also said that just last week, $2,000 was spent on new inmate work shirts.
She wants to use the commissary funds to repair the showers and replace the walls and floors with a surface that’s easier to keep clean.
She agrees that the garden program needs a tractor.
The next question asked of the group concerned the budget and how the detention center could cut out unnecessary costs.
Hurst said that one way would be “to house our own prisoners,” citing the face that he had just recently driven 177 miles to a jail in Bowling Green so an inmate could make a scheduled court appearance.
“These are our people,” he said. “We know these people.”
He said that the jail takes in state and federal prisoners “to offset costs” — costs that also accumulate by paying other counties to house Whitley County’s inmate populace.
Hurst then noted that Whitley County “has the 17th largest caseload in the state,” and that many of those cases are repeat offenders.
He feels the jail needs to push inmates to participate in “drug court,” noting that 42 percent of those who complete drug court do not reoffend with a felony. Then costs are reduced with less inmate traffic.
Lawson said he would take the budget as it is and “break it down” and review it “point by point by point.”
By doing this, Lawson said he could determine “what’s best for the community and best for the inmates to cut costs.”
He added that he wants to “cut down” on repeat offenders and implement a reentry program into the jail.
Lawson said he would also institute a recycling program that could cut the haulage fee of the jail’s garbage and be a positive for the environment. “There’s ways to generate revenue outside of what we have now,” he said.
Taylor wants to cut the $2.9 million budget, and one way he said was to cut the $300,000 inmate medical costs. He said there could be a cheaper provider.
Jackson made reference to current Laurel County Jailer Jamie Mosley, who he feels has done “an excellent job.” He reiterated his point that the detention center has a $2.9 million budget, and that Mosley operated the Laurel County Correctional Center on just a $1 million budget.
Jackson said that things could begin to happen “if you get the right group to work together.”
“Let the inmates do the labor — do we know how much we’re going to save? A whole lot of money,” he said. “(We need) to get a team together and let’s move forward.”
Smith said he wants to know where the jail’s money goes and would perform a budget breakdown. He added that he’d actually have to see the budget first to break it down. “Until I see it I don’t know what to do with it,” he said.
Essek said that he would audit the operations of the jail “to see where the waste is, identify it and eliminate it.”
Hoke said she would “break down” the budget and seek improvements. She added that currently only two inmates are housed in other counties and “they are there for their own safety.”
“We try to house inmates in our own county,” she said. She also said that overtime “does get out of hand,” but that she would address that as jailer as well.
Moses, too, said she would break down the budget — and noted that while medical expenses are paid by insurance concerning inmates, settlements paid to families of inmates with jail-related issues are directly paid by taxpayers.
Bowlin then asked the group the next question — and that was how to stop contraband from entering the detention center.
Lawson said contraband gets in by three avenues — incoming inmates, work detail inmates and visiting relatives and/or friends.
“The only other way (is) by a guard, but I hate to think that,” he said.
He would make improvements in booking, and jail staff would do “a better job searching there.”
He also said that those inmates on work detail must have better supervision.
He added that all employees would be drug-tested.
Taylor agreed, saying all employees should be subjected to drug screenings. He further said incoming inmates should have a jailer of their sex physically search them prior to them entering the detention center.
Searches should also be conducted on work release inmates as they leave and enter the jail, Taylor added.
Jackson said that drugs need to be out of the jail. “(If you) surround yourself with good people…and (there’s) a lot of people in the community that need jobs,” he said.
He added that part of the hiring process would be both a drug and background screening.
Then Jackson said he would train the employees “thoroughly.”
He further added that the work release program needed supervisors.
Smith said that “with your employees (at the jail) you have to run a tight (ship).”
He also said that it would be mandatory of work release inmates to have a different uniform, and that when those inmates return to the jail, they all need to be searched thoroughly.
Essek agreed the three ways contraband enters the jail. “I’m going to find out who’s doing it and nip it in the bud,” he said.
He also said new policies should be implemented for searches, including random searches of the inmates’ quarters.
“(I want to) make sure no one is holding (contraband) in there,” he said.
Hoke said that work release inmates are currently strip searched when they return to the jail. She also said that when visitors come to the jail “we try to prevent them (from slipping the inmates contraband) but they are sneaky.”
“God forbid I have a duty guard (like that),” she said, adding she knows it happens when guards “get comfortable with these inmates.”
She also said that all staff members are drug tested when they are hired, and that random drug screening occurs at the jail — two times a month for all three shifts.
Moses simply said that to avoid the introduction of contraband into the jail, she would provide leadership, training and education.
Hurst said that all county employees are drug tested upon being hired.
He also said that he would begin a training policy and procedure to teach guards to monitor various activities, such as repetitive actions of the inmates.
He also said that those who participate in the work release program would be offenders with a two-year sentence or less.
Hurst added that he would employ cell searches and monitor the correctional officer staff.
Bowlin’s next question for candidates concerned repeat offenders and how to curb that high rate facing Whitley County.
Taylor referred to House Bill 463 and noted the goal of that bill was to reduce the recidivism, or repeat offender, rate.
He would start with implementing a reentry program at the detention center, noting there was a high rate of repeat offenders.
Taylor said he would assist inmates in achieving their high school education with a GED, and also help inmates to learn needed “computer skills, trade skills, carpentry skills, auto body skills, and family skills.”
Jackson said he was looking at “the big picture” and that the suggestions heard had “good points.”
But House Bill 463 “has not saved the state as much money,” he said.
“Until we look into it I think you go around in circles with it,” Jackson said.
He also said the jail needs more faith-based programs, as well as a reentry program. “The reentry program is most important at this time — I think it’s a must,” Jackson said. “Drugs (are) effecting many of our families.”
Smith said that if nothing is done for the inmates while they are in jail, they’ll fall back into the same old habits when they are released from the detention center.
He added that he feels inmates need education to help them not return to the same old habits, and then return to jail.
Essek said he wants a reentry program established, while making sure the inmates’ rights are kept and their needs attended to. If an inmate has a substance abuse problem, “it needs dealt with,” he said, and if an inmate has an education problem, “it needs dealt with.”
Essek added that the lack of good-paying jobs in Whitley County leads some of these inmates to be lured by dreams of big money in dealing drugs.
Hoke agreed with the introduction of a reentry program in the jail. “(We) don’t have one now in the detention center,” she said. “I’m looking into that.”
She would also like to meet with inmates for them to learn family skills — “I’m looking into that,” she said.
She did note that the detention center does have GED classes available for inmates, and that church services are held in the facility five days a week.
Moses agreed with the reentry program. “It’s a program we need to model (inmates),” she said. “It can happen in Whitley County.”
Hurst said that when Whitley County’s caseload is 17th out of 120 counties, there’s a problem because it’s “the same people over and over again” getting arrested and charged.
He wants to see a reentry program started, as well as an anger management course, a conflict management course, budget and money management, and family skills.
Lawson also said he’d want to offer inmates classes. “These are our neighbors,” he said. “No one is up there serving a life sentence.”
He wants to incorporate anger management, job skills, substance abuse programs and the GED program.
Lawson also wants to get into the community and educate the youth, promoting what a good education can do for them and get passed the drug problem in Whitley County.
He would also institute an inmate exit interview and create a community council that would include local churches to assist inmates in transitioning back into society.
The 90-minute public forum was attended by more than 50 people Monday — the primary election is slated for Tuesday, May 20. Polling stations open at 6 a.m. and close at 6 p.m.
By John L. Ross / Staff Writer
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