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Lawrence County commissioners address, assess jail situation: Part 2

Friday, October 23, 2009

Lawrence County commissioners, at the request of The Monett Times, have answered questions about the closing of the Lawrence County Jail in July. In this second installment, the commissioners cite a number of problems contributing to the situation and the ongoing financial crunch resulting from the move.

"We feel the jail closing is a result of a lack of regular maintenance and proper supervision," the commissioners stated.

"Safety and security at the jail has always been a top priority to the commission. When the jail went over budget on repairs in 2007 and 2008, the commission approved those overruns," the commissioners said in their written statement prepared for The Times.

"We believe the problems have developed over a long period of time and should have been addressed incrementally before they got to this point of severity," the commissioners stated.

Since physical problems with the jail facility surfaced, commissioners said they have taken a closer look at policies, procedures and staff.

"Sheriff Brad DeLay originally informed the commission that the Highway Patrol investigation would look into procedures," the commissioners stated. "As it turns out, that investigation was purely of a criminal nature for the two dismissed employees. The commission has also questioned the present policy of moving the jail supervisor's office from the jail to the new Justice Center."

Preventing a recurrence of such problems is being viewed by the commissioners as safeguarding the taxpayers' investment in the county facility. Regular maintenance and procedures needed to be done to keep inmates from damaging county property.

"With the amount of repairs and refurbishing being done and with the technological additions of security cameras and controls, the jail should be at a functional level for some time in the future. If the jail is properly supervised and maintained, it should be usable for many years," the commissioners stated.

The commissioners said they wanted to see the jail transformed into a more secure and well supervised facility with constant monitoring and control of the inmates by the staff.

"With the new equipment and technology, there is no reason the jail should not run smoothly, cleanly and safely," the commissioners stated. "The only reason it would not is lack of supervision. With the upgrades being made, the jail should be adequate for at least as long as the present facility has been serving the county. The improvements will make the jail a better facility than when it was built." .

Sheriff DeLay, taking over a year ago by appointment of the commission after Sheriff Ed Weisacosky resigned prior to the end of his term, has been in the forefront of dealing with the jail crisis. The commissioners pointed out during the last two years of Weisacosky's administration, no major requests for jail maintenance were made, nor were any made in 2009.

The commissioners were supportive in their comments about how DeLay has handled the situation.

"With over 15 years of experience in the Lawrence County Sheriff's Department, Sheriff DeLay is well qualified to know how the department operates," the commissioners said. "He officially assumed the duties of sheriff in September of 2008 and has been deeply involved with the department years prior to that. We feel Sheriff DeLay inherited many of these problems.

"However, the commission feels Sheriff DeLay could have addressed some of the problems earlier than he did. With the jail issues and his normal duties, the commission feels Sheriff DeLay is trying to make the best of a bad situation.

"Successful county government requires the utmost cooperation," the commissioners continued. "The citizens of Lawrence County expect their elected officials to work together. The commission looks forward to working with Sheriff DeLay to solve problems as they arise to the best advantage of the citizens of Lawrence County."

The commissioners expressed a degree of impatience at the continuation of the ongoing situation that has made it necessary to house prisoners outside of the county.

"We feel the focus should be on returning as many prisoners as possible back to Lawrence County to any portion of the jail that is functional in order to defray board bills and additional costs to the county. At every meeting with the sheriff, the commission has stressed the need to open the jail as soon as possible if even for a few prisoners. The longer the jail remains closed, the more it costs to house prisoners in other jurisdictions," the commissioners concluded.



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