A grand jury report condemns conditions at the Jackson County jail, saying it puts the safety of inmates and employees at risk, as well the county’s citizens.
The report, released late Friday by the office of County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, says increased county spending on the jail in recent years does not appear to have improved conditions. The report underlines points made previously in reports by consultants the county has hired: too many inmates, too few corrections officers, bad food, unclean living conditions, violent criminals being released into the community for lack of space, inmates feeling unsafe in their cells because there are too few guards to protect them.
“The jail’s problems stem from a systemic failure to plan and/or to address its well-documented problems,” the report says. “The responsibility for the failures fall(s) on the Jail’s management and the County’s Administration.”
It also writes, “The tax payers of this County have paid for multiple studies concerning the Jail and yet there has been little improvement in the conditions and treatment of inmates. … And we respectfully demand action.”
A task force appointed in late 2017 by County Executive Frank White Jr. to study jail issues was initially given a six-month schedule, but that time is nearly up, and it’s unclear when the task force will forward its recommendations.
The grand jury, empaneled at Baker’s request, also criticizes White and his chief of staff, Caleb Clifford. It cites a “fragmented management system” and takes White to task for what it sees as him distancing himself from jail funding issues and for saying the County Legislature “really makes most of the decisions.” In fact, the report says, the Legislature has consistently approved jail funding requests and overall funding has risen in recent years.
The grand jury writes that Clifford “was condescending and derisive of our task of reviewing the conditions of the Jail and reporting on them” and that jail issues are complicated and “therefore, we could not understand them.”
Among the specific findings:
• “The inmate living spaces are not safe. Inadequate staffing commonly creates a scenario where inmates believe they cannot depend on COs (corrections officers) for safety protection,” the report says. “In this situation, inmates seeking protection turn to other inmates. Fights and assaults take place regularly …”
• The report mentions the two known assaults on corrections officers last year. “These brave women and men are outnumbered by the inmate population,” and that “creates a scenario where it is all but certain that the COs cannot perform any oversight or control of the inmates.”
• “The living spaces are not clean. Toilets and sinks are dirty and often leak. Insects and mice are present in inmate living spaces. Mold is present in showers.”
• “Meals are often cold, sometimes delayed, and occasionally not served.” That forces inmates to can afford it to sometimes buy food from the commissary.