With the county bond issue vote this coming Tuesday, the McClain County Commissioners and Sheriff hope that all of the information provided to the citizens thus far has been helpful.
They have one last important piece of information to share in order that the citizens “know the unvarnished truth,” Sheriff Don Hewett said.
The county is making available for inspection the latest jail inspection report.
Commissioners said even a cursory glance at the report clearly demonstrates that the county jail is far from being in compliance with the jail standards and statutes set out in the report from Inspector Barry Edwards.
The commissioners said if the four areas of violations cannot be corrected within the required time period, the Health Department may refer the violations to Attorney General Mike Hunter with a recommendation that the matter be sent to District Court for an order closing the jail.
Should that happen, all prisoners will be sent to a county with bed space and the citizens will have to pay all costs of incarceration and transportation at the foreign county's daily rate.
“This would be money that won't help our people at all,” Hewett said. “We need to make sure that we do the best we can for our citizens right here at home.”
This is not the first notice of non-compliance. Over the past four plus years, the Health Department’s Division of Protective Health has provided the county with numerous violation reports and opportunities to improve all of the conditions and reduce the critical and dangerous overcrowding in the jail.
As Mr. Edwards’s report of September 16 notice of non- compliance demonstrates, the Health Department has set out in detail exactly what the county’s insufficiencies are and has made very clear recommendations on corrective action.
Jail Administrator Lt. Bill Scott responded within the appropriate time period and agrees that the county can make significant progress to correct the hygiene and physical plant violations.
“What we cannot do though,” says Scott, “is correct all of the critical and serious health and safety hazards created by our overcrowding.”
The costs associated with reducing the population alone are staggering. Jail records indicate that for nearly two years, the jail’s daily census has been over 100 inmates. The jail is only certified for 53 inmates. Lately, the daily population has been close to or over 120. Over the next year, the county will have to pay well over $1,000,000 in additional costs just to house inmates at between $45-48 per day while the McClain County daily cost as certified by District Judge Leah Edwards is just under $29 per day.
“Just think, if we reduce our daily population from 100 to 53, at an average daily cost of $46.50, we spend over $2,000 per day just buying bed space in other counties,” Hewett said.
“And our citizens don’t really get any benefit from spending that much money.” On top of the actual amount paid to other counties, Hewett has had to hire an additional transport deputy and had to purchase an additional transport vehicle at a cost of over $20,000. Simple arithmetic indicates the daily rate along with fuel and wear and tear on the vehicles, amounts to a staggering annual total that could continue for years.
At a recent meeting of jail administrators from throughout the state, Lt. Scott represented McClain County and verified that Inspector Edwards singled out McClain County’s non- compliance saying that if the county cannot actually correct the violations in a reasonable time, it is likely that the Health Department will institute closure proceedings in District Court.
“The health and safety of our employees is critical,” Lt. Scott said. “We cannot continue to operate in these dangerous and unhealthy conditions and I completely understand why the Health Department has finally told us that this may very well be our last chance.”
In 2015, the voters resoundingly rejected a ballot measure asking to approve debt for construction of a new courthouse and jail.
“In 2015, we believed that with the cost of money at a historic low, we’d be taking advantage of the economic climate that would enable us to upgrade all of our facilities and thereby provide enhanced services to our citizens. We would have a modern, efficient physical plant for at least 30 years,” County Commissioner Chairman Wilson Lyles said.
The post-election reconnaissance clearly indicated that while they disagreed that a complete new courthouse was a good idea, the citizens clearly understood the need then for a larger, safer and more modern jail.
“Time after time,” Lyles said, “we heard that the ballot measure would have passed if we only built a jail.”
The county is asking the citizens for that new, modern facility with technology and infrastructure that will operate more efficiently and effectively,” Hewett said. “It will create a safe and healthy environment for our friends and neighbors who work in our jail.”
The plans call for a Public Safety Center with a jail, sheriff offices, Emergency Management and 911 departments at a cost of $23.75 million.
Hewett said the modern facility will operate efficiently and will enable all of the county’s public safety functions to work together in close proximity for the first time in history. Everyone involved in county public safety endeavors looks forward to being able to work together to improve services to the citizens, the sheriff said.
The entire non-compliance report can be reviewed at the McClain County Clerk’s office at the courthouse.
Hewett said a yes vote Tuesday will enable the county to put $23,750,000.00 to use to improve public safety services for all the county’s citizens and will guarantee a jail that will be able to stay in compliance with all of the mandated standards for at least 30 years.
Lyles said that ultimately the election may result in spending nearly the same amount of the requested bond over time in attorneys’ fees and court costs.