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Prisoners aren't pampered at Law Co Jail

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Prisoners don't have to guess what's for dinner at the Lawrence County Jail. Sheriff Brad DeLay keeps the menu consistent with beans and cornbread every night. For breakfast, inmates receive oatmeal each morning, and either a PB&J or bologna sandwich for lunch. [Times Photo by Melonie Roberts]
Changes have taken place at the Lawrence County Jail over the past year, and according to Sheriff Brad DeLay, they are changes for the better.

It was about a year ago that the jail made news headlines, because of two escape attempts that highlighted some of the facility's flawed and outdated security measures.

Those are a thing of the past.

"It's a whole different world now," DeLay said. "The last thing we wanted to do was shut down the jail. It wasn't something that happened overnight; it was a lot of little things. The county just grew out of the jail.

"It came down to being tough to get it under control," DeLay said.

The county ended up transferring approximately 40 prisoners to other facilities in order to put its house to rights. That included renovations to secure prisoners in their cells in a manner that enhanced the safety of jailers having to interact with inmates in very close quarters.

"Our old jail cells were the lock-and-key variety," DeLay said. The linear design of the facility put jailers at risk when they walked down the narrow hallway between cells with a bunch of jangling keys in hand. "There was the danger of someone reaching through the bars to make a grab at the keys.

"We spent $130,000 on a new mechanical system where the doors slide open," DeLay noted. "It's all controlled by electric motors. No hinges."

Another trouble spot in the older design of the jail was plumbing and wiring exposed to inmate access.

"In the past if an inmate became upset, they would stuff items down the commode and flood the jail," DeLay said. "Now there is a steel mesh to protect plumbing and wiring. Each cell has independent water shut-off valves to the commode and sink. If one cell is having problems, water no longer has to be shut off to the entire building."

Also installed throughout the facility were approximately 30 cameras, inside and out, to monitor every move that inmates and jailers make. Those cameras include audio capability.

"Detectives can monitor jail cells and phone calls in the jail system," DeLay added. "Anything said in this jail can be used in a case against them. They have absolutely no expectation of privacy here, with the exception of the designated attorney-client room.

"It cost nearly $250,000 to board inmates out to other facilities," DeLay said. "It took untold number of manhours and personnel to transport prisoners from Jasper and Greene counties to make their court appearances."

When the inmates returned to Lawrence County after a six-month hiatus, things had changed.

"There is an extensive inmate handbook policy," DeLay said. "This is a very structured, very strict environment."

From Pepto-Bismol pink jump suits and cells to a monotonous jail cell diet, inmates are quickly finding out that the Lawrence County Jail can't be mistaken for a Hilton Hotel.

"They're not pampered," DeLay said. "They have two choices. First, if they don't want to be in jail, don't commit a crime in Lawrence County. Second, we're not holding them here. Most of them can opt to bond out."

Those with multiple or serious charges are held without bail, but according to DeLay, that does not account for a majority of the jail's population.

"We don't have cable television," DeLay said. "We have air antenna. Inmates don't have 100 channels to choose from.

"They also get oatmeal for breakfast, peanut butter sandwiches with a side of cheese or bologna and cheese sandwiches for lunch, and pinto beans and cornbread for dinner. Every day.

"If an inmate complains that something hurts, he has to prove it to the county health nurse that comes in twice a week," Delay continued. "We are just taking care of basic needs here."

DeLay gets his inspiration from Joseph M. "Joe" Arpaio, Sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz., famed for his no-nonsense tent cities for criminals in that county.

"I also don't believe that the jail is here to make it nice for inmates," DeLay said. "Living in a jail should not be an improvement on where they live on the outside."

Recently investigated by the American Civil Liberties Union, DeLay finds humor in the number and type of complaints logged against his facility by inmates.

"They found that over 99 percent of the reports were inaccurate, which makes me happy," DeLay noted. "My biggest compliment is hearing that inmates don't like it here.

One prisoner was overheard to say he needed to get back to the DOC (Missouri Department of Corrections), because he couldn't take it being in jail in Lawrence County anymore."

Prisoners who act up in other facilities are finding themselves transferred to DeLay's "no-frills" jail.

"At one time, we were consistently running 15 or so over capacity," DeLay said. "Now, we run approximately 30 inmates at a time and are using some of the empty cells to house prisoners from out of the area. Our local prison population is at about half of what it used to run."

Has it impacted the local crime rate?

"That's not something I could answer right now,' DeLay said. "We've only been open since February.

"But overall? Yes, I think that there has been a downward trend in the crime rate. But that could change tomorrow."

Presently, DeLay has estimated significant savings for the Lawrence County Commission in what is arguably a tough economic environment.

"At the end of June last year, we had a $30,000 expense in boarding of prisoners," he said. "This year, so far, we have spent $11,000."

Utilities costs have dropped from $12,000 last year to $8,000 so far this year. Health costs have dropped from $32,000 to $12,000 thus far.

"That kind of savings has allowed us to hire an extra jailer, which is something typically unheard of in the middle of the year," DeLay said.

"Taxpayers also feel better that we're not blowing all this money," he continued. "We've had several citizens tell us 'it's about time they pay for what they've done.' The public in general is very supportive of what we're doing."

DeLay is happy jail operations are coming in under budget.

"That is due to the more efficient way the jail is being run," he said. "Eventually, despite everything that we've been doing, the jail will be inadequate. But right now, things couldn't be better."

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As Jails and Jail goes, it all sucks. I will however speak of my time in Lawrence County Jail in Mt.Vernon. Firstly, I got in and didn't even have a reservation. The Spa and Racquetball courts were being painted so I spent most of my stay out by the pool.

ALL KIDDING ASIDE: I did spend time in this jail back in 05 I think. It was on Easter weekend and it was because I'd failed to make a court date. I was treated fairly and respectfully and that is NOT what this posting is about. The old jail I will agree was not suited for habitation I will agree. It is nice that the standards have improved. This posting is however about the fact that I believe there should be an understanding that the tenants and tenants they are, I was charged I think $34 per night for my stay. I was told that shower rape was an extra $20 (I jest).

I've eaten the oatmeal, nothing to write home about, and I've done the PB&J's.But if you thought it was some kind of Shangra La before Sir you are purely MENTAL. Please let me state that your clientèle are those who fell in the way of an EXTREMELY FLAWED SYSTEM but are still MEN. They are me for th most part with JOBS and FAMILIES that find their day to day interrupted because the state needs some more statistics in order to get a part of that never ending TERRORIST FUNDING Pot that exists in Washington. I have no doubt that there shall be a new 'Super Jail' built soon in Mt. Vernon (just in time for Apple Butter Making Days)and that it will hold the worst of the worst. My question however is who will that be. Will it be the guy who's wife threw him out one night while tripping on crack as he was trying to get the kids dressed so they could escape? Will it be the woman who finally fought back as her husband beat her with an empty beer bottle? Or will it be YOU, since ALL CRIMES both misdemeanors and felonies have been reclassified now as 'Acts of Terror', and there are no Habeus Corpus rights to fall back on?.? Will it be YOU who gets caught stealing his neighbors newspaper and 'going away'for 5-6 years awaiting trial. Will it be you who is taken away in the night and locked up for 'Crimes Against the Nation'? By Law now you can be locked up for ANYTHING, and for HOWEVER LONG. So Mister Jailer, I would ask you to consider that maybe not all of your residents are the 'Cold Hard Criminals that you choose to portray. And Sir, I have belief that in the end Even Geobels wans forgiven for his crimes against humanity. So there is still hope for YOU and You Minders.

-- Posted by baltizaar on Sat, Jul 31, 2010, at 4:05 AM

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