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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Sheriff seeks to move forward from jail crisis

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Standing in one of the cells at the Lawrence County Jail, Sheriff Brad DeLay points out the new security cameras placed in a better location than in the past, part of renovations that have been underway since the jail closed in July. [Times Photo by Darla Damrill]
In approaching the problems at the Lawrence County Jail, Sheriff Brad DeLay said recognizing the depth of the issues has been a key part of determining where to go next.

According to DeLay, the jail was built to house 32 prisoners but had been modified over the years to hold 55 people.

"That's not what it was designed for," DeLay said. "We had inmates in areas that were originally designed as office space so you can imagine, none of the same security is in those particular areas.

"Sadly, when the jail was built, it was not built for expansion," DeLay said. "We cannot add anything to it. The only place to go is to bulldoze it and build a new one from the ground up."

In DeLay's opinion, a good approach to handling an influx of prisoners would have involved having a plan in place to increase the size of the jail as demand increased. DeLay suspects that the difficulty in getting voter approval to build the jail discouraged development of a jail that could be expanded.

"I believe the jail was built with what funds were available at the time," DeLay said.

DeLay said the county is still discovering the consequences of that approach.

"When someone digs out the wall and escapes, you don't know the walls are hollow until that happens," DeLay said. "You don't know there wasn't any rebar installed in the ventilation system until an inmate crawls out through the ventilation system.

"For instance, we didn't know there were problems with the doors. We were continuing our maintenance and had someone scheduled to come in to maintenance the locks. Had we known the locks were that bad we would have tried to take a different course of action," DeLay said.

DeLay remains concerned that even after the jail is fixed, it may still be inadequate.

In looking for a solution, DeLay recognizes the county commissioners' interest in the facility. State statute mandates the Commission take care of all county buildings and facilities.
At the same time, DeLay had reservations about the decision to build the Judicial Center instead of addressing the jail or combining both facilities.
"Did we need the jail before the Judicial Center? Yes. We needed a new jail 10 years before a Judicial Center. The Judicial Center building is nice and great. We needed it for safety reasons," DeLay said.
With changes in the commissioners over the years, DeLay was not sure how informed they were about the jails problems. He did not recall the commissioners ever visiting the jail.
"Except after I had closed it," DeLay said. "Then they came."

"That's probably the same thing with jails everywhere," continued DeLay. "Just hope it's there and self sufficient. Unless there is a problem, they don't want to know about it.

DeLay acknowledged the commissioners have many responsibilities in addition to dealing with the jail, however, he feels they should have had some knowledge of the ongoing needs at the jail.

"By the time this is all said and done, we are going to spend more to fix the jail than what it cost brand new when it was built," DeLay said.

According to DeLay, he requested several improvements in his budget, and he is continuing to try to address those costs.

Money that is being utilized to deal with the current jail crisis includes the sheriff special fund, inmate security fund and other funds that usually pay for daily operations, including boarding and food budgets.
"I have funds set aside that I am using to fix as much of this stuff as I can," DeLay said. "So I am hoping, in the end, that people will be able to see we used what money we had to fix our problem and didn't have to burden anybody else.
"I really want to get along with these guys ( the commissioners)," continued DeLay. "They are good people. When I attend conferences, sadly I hear how much commissioners and sheriffs disagree with each other. It has not been that way here. I want to let everyone know that."

DeLay hopes he and the Commissioners will be able to set aside any differences and work together to resolve the jail situation.

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