Changes should help alleviate jail concerns

Published 7:40 pm Thursday, December 28, 2006

Changes in the Pearl River County jail were prompted by two elements, allegations of inmate abuse and the need for more personnel. These changes should help alleviate any issues the jail may have had in the months that inmate abuse allegations were made.

Pearl River County Sheriff Joe Stuart said after Hurricane Katrina he lost most of his experienced correction officers to higher paying jobs, which created a personnel issue. In addition, post Katrina, the jail received a digital recorder to record less than half of the 38 cameras installed in the jail when it was built. That recorder was only capable of covering 16 of those cameras. It was not until a year later that the jail had the funding to get another digital recorder to cover another 16 cameras, Stuart said. Still there are six cameras that are left unrecorded, albeit in areas of the jail that recording is less necessary, he said. The first digital recorder was purchased with a $61,000 grant post Katrina and was installed in October of 2005.

The second recorder was installed in October of 2006, Stuart said. A second recorder was needed in part because when altercations between two inmates would ensue it would seem they knew to move out of range of the camera, he said.

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“So we saw a need to get a new digital recorder,” Stuart said. “I’d like to get the last six (on a recorder).”

Inmate medication distribution is a problem since the registered nurse can only come once a day and some inmates require their medication twice a day or more. Stuart said Chief Deputy Julie Flowers has met with County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin about securing a full or part time registered nurse for the jail. If the request is approved not only will it help the inmates get their medications when ever they may need them, it would also mean the jail could cater to more federal inmates, Stuart said.

“We just need a lot of medical stuff to meet the demand,” Flowers said.

A problem with holding Hancock prisoners is the gang related violence that goes on in the jail, Flowers said. Flowers said while there have been allegations against about five correction officers for inmate abuse she does not tolerate abuse of inmates.

“We’re not going to tolerate them putting their hands on folks,” Flowers said.

The problem arises when a few new employees come in to the jail on the correction officer team with a new found sense of authority and feel they have something to prove. Flowers said if she discovers there are such young employees working in the jail then she informs them that they need to move on to other work. Generally a correction officer position is a jumping off point for road deputy. She said if a correction officer is discovered to conduct themselves badly in the jail, they don’t get the chance to advance in the department.

“If you make it back there and conduct yourself badly back there you definitely ain’t going on the street,” Flowers said.

Recently there were two classes, one in November and one in December, that certified all the correction officers, Stuart said.

In the instance of an unruly inmate, such as noncompliance or suicidal, a restraint chair is used to calm them, Stuart said. The chair is located in the jail near the holding cells in front of a recorded camera to make sure no abuse goes on, he said.

Flowers said of all the correction officer inmate abuse allegations filed, 90 percent of them are unfounded.

“A picture has been painted that every (Sheriff’s Department) employee will be carried away in handcuffs and that’s not it at all,” Flowers said. “There’s only been a few people that allegations have been brought against. We’re not going to tolerate abuse in the jail.”

Those allegations were brought to the attention of the Pearl River County Sheriff’s Department in October of 2006, Stuart said. Flowers said she has had discussions with Hancock County Chief Deputy Ronnie Cuevas and any allegations have been shared with that department. She said she has also informed the Hancock County department about the gang related violence that has been taking place between Hancock inmates in the Pearl River County jail. The last time she talked with him was about three weeks ago, she said.

Personnel changes have taken place since the allegations have been made. Flowers said an additional warden, four sergeants and additional correction officers have been added to the staff. Stuart said those changes are in part to address the allegations and also to meet National Institute of Corrections guidelines for a jail the size of Millard’s.

“When you have allegations you start making changes,” Flowers said.s

“We will continue to make changes until we get it right,” Stuart said.