The Big Sandy Regional Detention Center board convened Thursday and, over the course of nearly three hours, addressed multiple issues at the jail.
The board first voted to approve the hiring of several candidates to positions open at the jail, and interviewed one candidate for a new position to be created in partnership with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet to supervise a program to use inmate labor to maintain the Dawkins Line trailheads. The board opted to continue advertising that position to attract additional candidates.
As part of the report of administrator F. D. “Pete” Fitzpatrick, the board heard a routine issue that has been raised before — dozens of hours of overtime, some scheduled in part for inmate supervision in hospital stays, some due to employees covering for others who call off their shifts.
With the hiring of the additional employees, Fitzpatrick agreed that overtime needs may go down after those new employees are trained, but the need for overtime for hospital supervision duty was a sticking point for the board.
Fitzpatrick said some guards have been stuck on hospital details around the clock for multiple days straight, and begin accruing overtime as soon as they break 40 hours.
“The longest I’ve had anybody do it has probably been four days in a row,” Fitzpatrick said. “If the board has something better for me to do, I’m all ears.”
Fitzpatrick agreed the situation was not ideal, but he has been routinely held back by an inability to call in additional employees to cover shifts and relieve coworkers.
“This week we’re in, we went from Saturday to today, nobody would answer when we called them to come in. Nobody would answer their phone,” Fitzpatrick said.
“I think it would be cheaper to hire some extra people that you can switch out. You keep paying people overtime, with all these overtime hours, it would be cheaper,” Johnson County Jailer Steve Rose said.
Fitzpatrick also explained the additional complications involved in bringing in additional staff, such as requirements to have multiple male and female guards on duty and present at the jail.
Board chair Daniel Castle concluded the discussion on overtime needs and employment by forming a committee, with board members Ann Ratliff of Johnson County and Johnny Lovely of Magoffin County working with Fitzpatrick before the next meeting to find solutions.
Video visitation in the works
The jail’s contract with Securus Technologies to create a video visitation system is on its way to coming to fruition.
The system will allow teleconferencing with inmates without the need for them to leave their cells, allowing both remote visits for families from their own homes or on-site visits via public video terminals at the jail.
The discussion on visitation led to inquiry about visitation scheduling policies — namely, that jail staff have, to date, been disallowed from giving members of the public concrete answers about times when visitation would be allowed for a given inmate.
Visitation schedules are based on cell number, and because inmates could get moved, their visitation schedule could be changed abruptly. The responsibility for telling family an inmate’s visitation schedule has instead been the responsibility of the inmates.
According to the policy in place now, Fitzpatrick said, even if a family traveled a long distance to see an inmate on a given day, if that inmate has been moved to a new cell with a new schedule, that visitation would have to be canceled, because there exists a safety concern for inmates from two different cells being allowed in the hallways or visitation area simultaneously.
The board voted to amend these internal policies, to allow jail staff to give families visitation date information, and to allow these rules to be relaxed in “extenuating circumstances,” such as if an inmate’s family traveled a long way after being given scheduling information that has changed unexpectedly.
In that case, Fitzpatrick said, for safety reasons, regular visitation would have to be put on hold, unless a secondary visitation area which has been defunct for years and is currently used for storage could be reopened.
Longtime board member Joe Mills took a moment in discussion at the meeting to warn his fellow board members about having the board dictate the minutiae of day-to-day operations and practices, rather than working on broader policy and leaving these decisions to the administrator.
“Board members have to focus on policy. When board members start getting into procedures, you’re living dangerously,” Mills said. “When you get into the specifics of anything, you’re getting into what you pay the administrator to do.”
Mold issues being dealt with
Several board members discussed issues found in an internal inspection of the jail, such as the prevalence of mold in some areas.
Mold that had been in the kitchen area was properly dealt with, Fitzpatrick said, with the area in question having been stripped and sealed.
Mold prevailed in some other areas, and the board voted to expedite the ordering of shower basins to get them replaced.
Castle pointed out in the jail’s employee manual that cleaning the cells is the responsibility of the inmates, with cleaning supplies to be provided and a log to be kept.
“Do you have a maintenance log where these cells have been pressure washed and cleaned?” Castle asked.
“No,” Fitzpatrick said.
“Is that something that a previous board has voted to stop doing?” Castle asked.
“First time I’ve heard of it,” Fitzpatrick said.
Castle said that some cells, on inspection, look good — while others, he said, were so thick with black mold, “You could write your name in it.”
Ratliff pointed out that the jail’s “astronomical” medical costs could be helped by a renewed focus on keeping cells clean, and even if it required an investment, it would pay dividends in the long run.
Rose said his only concern was having inmates in the jail as of today is that the manual’s guidelines are meant to be for day-to-day cleaning. To enforce the policy only starting now would mean tasking the inmates who happen to be in jail now with overcoming years of neglect and buildup for which they were not responsible.
The board voted to expedite the ordering of new shower basins and shower curtains, which had been on a replacement schedule already.