Jail needs voiced

Posted 9/9/18

Malfunctioning door locks, cameras that don’t work, problems with sewer service, and a kitchen operating with only half the equipment in working order were among the concerns highlighted during a tour Friday of the Bradley County Jail.

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Jail needs voiced

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Malfunctioning door locks, problems with sewer service, and a kitchen operating with only half the equipment in working order were among the concerns highlighted during a tour Friday of the Bradley County Jail.

The Bradley County Commission’s Law Enforcement Committee met at the jail to hear about those concerns — and more — from Sheriff Steve Lawson, who was sworn into office on Sept. 1. Commissioners Erica Davis and Milan Blake, chairman of the Finance Committee, also attended.

Before the jail walk-through, Committee Chairman Jeff Yarber said “there’s just some things I think we need to begin to address.”

Yarber also noted that  new committee appointments have not yet been made by newly election County Commission Chairman Johnny Mull, who is still a member of the Law Enforcement Committee until new committees are appointed.

Speaking about jail maintenance concerns, Lawson said he did a preliminary walk-through on Thursday in preparation for the committee meeting.

“The kitchen is a big concern to me,” Lawson said, adding half of the equipment is currently not operational. He also said inmates deserve the best food “for the tax dollar” spent on it.

“We have got to start fixing stuff and getting back to where we need to be,” he said.

Cassandra Stone, finance director for the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office, said she has two sets of quotes for the kitchen equipment. Yarber recommended getting pricing for any immediate needs and sending the information to the Commission’s Finance Committee. He also recommended those needs be prioritized so the most pressing ones are addressed first.

Discussing how to pay for the needed equipment, Stone said the BCSO budget request included an increase; while there was an increase from last year’s budget, “we just didn’t get what we asked for.” She added several of the maintenance needs now realized were not known during the budget process.

Yarber said if he is appointed again as Law Enforcement Committee chairman, he plans to call another meeting to address other concerns. However, he reiterated the most pressing ones need to be sent to the Finance Committee.

Lawson said his top priorities are:

• A new control board at a cost of about $225,000. The control board is the master equipment for door locks throughout the jail. “We can’t afford to get somebody hurt,” Lawson said.

Later, on the jail tour, Corrections Division Capt. Alan Walsh said door locks throughout the building can open unexpectedly, including in the inmate housing areas.

“The doors are just opening (by) themselves,” Walsh said, adding it has been going on for several months. He added there are plans to charge inmates with escape when they go through malfunctioning doors to other pods.

• Improved property rooms. On the jail tour, a room with shelves and numbered storage totes was shown along with stacked milk crates full of inmates’ belongings.

• Sewer system improvements, specifically equipment called a “muncher” that will cost approximately $20,000 to fix. Lawson said he plans to meet with Cleveland Utilities to discuss the equipment, noting “it’s got us shut down in other areas” like the commissary, which is now losing revenue.

Lawson added they need to look at a system that separates waste from trash, to extend the life of the equipment.

Lawson said the building and equipment are getting “older and older” and repairs are needed. He also mentioned industrial-capacity clothes washers and dryers are running constantly. He is not sure how much longer they will last under the workload. Lawson suggested having heavy-duty washers and dryers in the housing pods, noting  equipment is available in the female inmate housing areas.

Based on Lawson’s top priorities for equipment, the Law Enforcement Committee approved separate motions to send to the Finance Committee for:

• Control board

• Sewer system “muncher”

• Clothes washers and dryers

“The rest of the stuff we can look at  the next meeting,” Yarber said.

During the jail tour, Walsh said there were 570 inmates housed on Friday and there were 611 inmates last week; the Bradley County Jail is a 408-bed facility.

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