Barry County Sheriff Mick Epperly described operations at the Barry County Jail and challenges related to county law enforcement in a presentation at last week's meeting of the Monett Kiwanis Club.
The county jail is a storied institution. Epperly said the first one was located in a log cabin structure in McDowell. The lock-up was on an upper level, reached by a ladder and through a window. The first jail built in Cassville burned down. A second jail was built in what is now the Commerce Bank parking lot. Since 1971, the jail has been at 505 East Street.
The present jail started out with six cells to accommodate 16 inmates. As the county population grew, so did the need for more jail space. Epperly said the jail was expanded in 1996 to 32 beds. By 2006 he had 42 prisoners in the same space. Epperly made room by putting three beds per cell, adding a mattress on the floor.
Last year the county expanded the jail by bringing in additional pods to add onto the building in line with the plan envisioned in the 1996 upgrade. Each pod, weighing 50,000 pounds, was brought by railroad to Exeter then trucked to Cassville. Epperly said when the expansion was finished in February, the jail had a capacity of 80 beds.
The additional space has not boosted occupancy yet, said the sheriff. In 2008 the average prisoner count was 49. So far in 2009, the average count has been 47. At the time of Epperly's presentation, the jail had 40 occupants.
The daily routine in the jail calls for keeping inmates in their cells from 10 p.m. to 10 a.m. A day room is available for mingling. When the weather permits, prisoners get an hour in the outside yard for exercise each day.
Prisoners get three meals a day, Epperly said. Breakfast is oatmeal or biscuits and gravy. Lunch is the day's hot meal, made by the cook on staff. When the cook is off on weekends, lunch is usually chili or soup. Supper is generally a lunchmeat sandwich, chips and tea.
Presently the jail has 12 correctional officers. Inmates help pay for their incarceration through wage garnishment after their release. Epperly started an inmate work program that further provides a way to pay bills. Shackled at the ankles, prisoners have been used in work details for tornado cleanup and painting chores. Hardened criminals, such as armed robbers or sex offenders, do not qualify for the work detail.
Trips to the emergency room are billed to the inmate. With no doctor or nurse on staff, Epperly said the jail staff must carefully determine if a trip to the hospital is needed. No narcotics are dispensed to prisoners while they are jailed, he added.
When released, prisoners sign a waiver releasing the county of any liability involved from the jail stay, Epperly said.
In recent years, the evidence room at the jail building was also expanded. Materials now go in a locker. Previously, the material had been locked in a trailer. The present system is much more systematic, Epperly said.
On occasion prisoners are held temporarily. Epperly said a six-hour hold is for alcohol cases, needed 108 times in 2008. There were 56 times prisoners were held for 12 hours on alcohol related matters.
The crime count in the county has been lower in 2009 than the previous year, Epperly said. Crimes by women appear to be up. While limiting sales of pseudoephedrine has deterred methamphetamine lab activity, Epperly said a new trend he sees is meth cookers sending whole families out to buy ingredients separately.
Looking at his general resources, Epperly said his office has 21 officers to cover 780 square miles, one of the largest counties in the state. His team includes four investigators, two bailiffs for court duty, one transport officer and a Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) officer. Epperly praised the county's partnership with the Southwest Missouri Drug Task Force, a relationship he considered to be "a great tool" for the county.
Kiwanis President-Elect Randy Henderson presided at the meeting. Frank Washburn, who works as the Barry County northern commissioner, served as program chairman. The Kiwanis Club meets for a meal and a program every Tuesday at noon at the Happy House restaurant in Monett.