Tour highlights issues with aging jail in Boyle

Published 4:46 pm Monday, June 3, 2019

About half a year after an in-depth study of the local jail and criminal justice system was completed, the jail population is staying significantly lower than it had been before the study. But the literal nuts and bolts, the actual physical situation of the jail is much the same as it was.

Officials from Boyle and Mercer counties continue to pursue the possibility of constructing a new jail or renovating the existing facility, but any solution won’t become a reality for years. In the meantime, deputy jailers continue to work with the facility they have — an aging facility that has numerous design flaws and not enough space for some of the things the jail could or should be doing for its inmates.

Chief Deputy Chad Holderman recently gave The Advocate-Messenger a tour of the jail facility to show how deputies are able to keep things running now and where the current facility falls short.

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Working outside the secured area of the jail is Deputy Vickie Thompson, who is one of no more than a few deaf deputy jailers in Kentucky. Thompson is in charge of all mail at the jail, which she examines for things like illicit drugs and inappropriate pictures.

Thompson’s “office” is a former closet, maybe 6 feet wide and 10 feet deep. But she will soon be relocated to the visitors’ side of an old visitation room so her office can be repurposed for one of two new mental health staff the jail plans to hire in the next fiscal year.

Inside the “state side” of the jail, sentenced prisoners serving out their time are gathered in one of the barracks-like cells, holding a support group meeting. Beyond their cells is the oldest portion of the building, which was around long before this became a jail in the late 1990s. Holderman said the cafeteria and kitchen area used to be part of a business that made meals for the workers in nearby factories.

The laundry room has two massive washing machines, both of which are on their last legs. The counties plan to buy one new washing machine soon, and replace the second one whenever it finally dies.

In a room with hot water heaters that supply the laundry and cafeteria areas, the jail also stores all of the inmate records it’s required to maintain, which can stretch back years or even decades. It also has some networking and electronics on a back wall — something Holderman notes could be problematic should the water heaters malfunction and leak or steam up the room.

The jail had something just like that occur earlier this year: In another utility room on the other side of the jail, the boiler that provides hot water for the rest of the facility malfunctioned and began emitting huge amounts of steam — so much that it was condensing and water was running along the floor, Holderman said. In that same room were servers the jail systems run on. Fortunately, they weren’t damaged. Those servers have now been moved to a secure location away from the boiler, but a large amount of technology and wiring remains in the room.

Walking through the hallways of the jail, Holderman explains how sight lines are extremely restricted — you can never see further than maybe 20 feet — and there are lots of 90-degree turns that make it impossible to see if someone is waiting around a corner. In modern jails, the lines of sight extend essentially the length of the jail, he said.

Deputy Kayla Williard is running the control center during the tour. The control center is a secured, circular room in the center of the jail, which is locked from the inside. Ideally, the jail would have enough staff to keep two people in the control center at all times, because if whoever is in there has a medical emergency, there’s no way to get in to them, Holderman explains. Today, Williard is in the control center alone; Holderman says that’s the way it usually is with the jail’s current staffing level.

Holderman says running the control center is the worst job in the jail because you’re responsible for watching every security camera and opening every secured door when deputies need to move through them. There are already too many cameras for one person to easily monitor, and the number of cameras is expected to grow significantly in the coming year, as new ones are added, including on the outside of the facility.

Williard is essentially acting as a virtual backup to every deputy, including ones who are continuously doing cell checks, Holderman explains. If a deputy goes into a cell and there is any kind of problem, Williard is the one, watching on the camera, who has to call for backup.

Another closet-sized room near the control center will soon be used for mental health consultations, Holderman says.

Near that room is the inmate side of a visitation room, which still has the old landline telephones hanging next to each glass-divided visitation booth (inmates now use tablet computers for their phone calls). That room has been repurposed to serve as the jail’s GED study room.

The jail has repurposed another visitation room, as well — it serves as the staff break room, with a TV mounted on the wall and a microwave sitting in window where inmates would have talked with family members before.

Working in the maximum security portion of the jail is Deputy Ron Neal — the one deputy assigned to the area. The maximum security area holds inmates who are prone to harm or abuse other inmates, which Holderman says are called “predators.” There’s also a cell for “prey” — inmates who cannot be in general population because the other inmates would hurt them or they would get themselves in trouble. And there’s an isolation unit, where inmates who have gotten in trouble while in the jail must live.

By the time Holderman has finished his tour, it’s been about 90 minutes and he has six incident reports waiting for him to review.

The study of the jail estimated last year that renovating or constructing a new jail would both cost is excess of $30 million. Boyle and Mercer counties are currently in the process of evaluating companies that responded to a request for qualifications (RFQ), meaning they’re interested in running the project for the counties. A finalist for the job could be chosen later this month, and a final decision could be made in July.