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Sheriff speaks out about Law Co Jail situation

Monday, November 9, 2009

The placement of a larger fence with barbed wire on top is one of the security improvements that has been made at the Lawrence County Jail in recent weeks. The door at the right of the photo is the one through which one of the prisoners escaped in July. DeLay said upgrading the fence earlier would have prevented problems with prisoners. [Darla Damrill, photo]
After Lawrence County commissioners issued statements about the Lawrence County Jail closing, Sheriff Brad DeLay held an interview with The Monett Times to provide his perspective on the ongoing jail situation.

"I'm not trying to make the commissioners look bad or trying to say that they aren't doing their job," said DeLay. "But I do not want the citizens of Lawrence County to think I am not doing what I am suppose to be doing."

At the onset of the interview, DeLay provided The Monett Times with copies of yearly jail budget requests that had been submitted to the Commission dating back to 2003 and copies of letters he had written to the Commission directly after he took office.

DeLay also provided a copy of a letter he wrote to the Commission on Oct. 21 in response to the commissioners' answers to questions about the jail closing submitted to them by The Monett Times. Two news articles documenting those responses appeared in The Monett Times on Oct. 22 and Oct. 23.

In his letter, DeLay told the Commission he had documentation dating back to 2003, showing that he as well as previous sheriffs and jail administrators had sent the Commission lists of items that needed to be fixed at the jail.

"These are things that didn't just happen in the last two or three months; it didn't just crop up overnight," DeLay said. " We've been having the same reoccurring problems for at least the past six years.

"It was estimated, at the time the jail was closed, that the cost (to fix the jail) would be around $100,000," DeLay said. "Unfortunately, it did not work out that way. Not everything was an immediate fix.

"For example, we didn't know the extent of the problems with the doors at the time the list was made," added DeLay. "If we had known, that would have changed everything immediately.

"I understand there are budgets and the Commission may not be able to dish out $100,000 all at once," said DeLay. "But we have problems and we've got to get them fixed. We were following our steps to get the problems fixed. Funds just didn't get appropriated to do them."

Prior to taking office on Sept. 26, 2008, DeLay said his first order of business was to inspect problems at the jail. DeLay immediately contacted the head supervisor of the jail, head supervisor of the dispatch, ranking officers in both and non-supervisory personnel to inspect the facility.

"I asked them to give me a complete list of items that needed to be resolved immediately and over a short period of time," DeLay said. "I asked for the list, because I was getting ready to take office and to prepare for the upcoming 2009 jail budget."

On Oct. 24, 2008, Sgt. Evatt with the Lawrence County Sheriff's Department provided DeLay with a six-page list of issues concerning the jail.

The list included numerous security and safety issues. Some of these items included: holes in the walls between cells and missing cinder blocks; loose wires hanging from the ceiling; vent covers missing; broken conduit; no smoke detectors in the jail; broken locks in cells; mold; and numerous plumbing issues.

The list also included suggested improvements such as the need for a chain link fence with razor wire, the need for new security cameras, the need to replace cell doors and the need for a new card key lock system. According to DeLay, the touch pad system that was being utilized was unsafe because inmates, if watching, could obtain the codes.

DeLay said he presented the problems at the jail to the Commission so they would allot the necessary funds to fix them in the 2009 jail budget.

In his letter to the Commission dated Nov. 7, 2008 (one month after he took office), DeLay attached the list of his concerns at the jail. Some of the requested items were included in the 2009 jail budget, but many others were not approved due to cost.

According to DeLay, the Commission budgeted $15,000 for repairs and maintenance of the jail.

"They did give us money to put in new keypads, and we spent the $15,432 to fix some of these things," said DeLay. "However, we were not aware there was an additional $30,000 available as the Commission stated."

When DeLay received a quote from Anchor Fence in March of 2009 to erect outside fencing with razor wire, he went to the Commission again to discuss the ongoing security problems with the fencing.

At that time, DeLay said he told commissioners he was concerned because the cost of fixing the fence had not been approved, and without fence improvements, problems could arise at the jail.

In July, two inmates escaped from the Lawrence County Jail.

According to DeLay, one escape was directly due to the condition of the fence and the second escape might have been preventable if the fence outside had been fixed.

"The commissioners complained that there was inadequate supervision at the jail. That bothers me," DeLay said. "We had asked for at least two additional jailers so there would not be only one person on staff. That (request for more jailers) was cut out of the budget."

Currently, there is only one jailer who is responsible for watching approximately 55 to 60 adult inmates, while also answering the phone, booking in sex offenders, booking inmates in and out of the jail and processing concealed carry permits.

More of Sheriff DeLay's response to the Lawrence County Jail situation will appear in Wednesday's issue of The Monett Times when the second part of his interview is published.

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