MOUNT VERNON — At the commissioners meeting on Thursday afternoon, Knox County Maintenance Superintendent John Alberts and Knox County Sheriff David Barber brought up other pressing concerns, not relating to the budget, but that of maintenance problems with the jail.
The first problem addressed was the housing dorm locks. Inmates have been sticking debris or other forms of trash into the mechanical portion of the lock and creating obstruction within the key hole. The locks are typically operated electrically through an integrated computer system, but in the event that the computers go out there is a key that can manually be used to open the doors.
One of the commissioners’ concerns was there seems to be no consequence to the inmates for vandalizing county property. Consequences would deter inmates from damaging the property.
“We already had, and have always had rules and regulations for the inmates. Inmates damage but I don’t refer to it as vandalism, I refer to it as inmate ware and tear. This is not a direct supervision jail,” said Barber.
Barber explained the housing dorms are not manned 24 hours a day. “There is a housing officer who goes through the individual housing areas during their shift and there is a central control who can visually see in. ... But that central control officer is also opening and closing doors, is answering the main jail information phone, he is communicating with the deputies on staff, he’s talking to inmates over the intercom, he’s doing record keeping functions, so he is not looking at every single inmate whether they are three feet from the door or whether they are sticking a pencil in the lock or carving their initials into the table in the dorms. This jail does not function that way because this is not a direct supervision jail,” he said.
“If we catch someone tearing something up and they’ve been put into lock down, I’ve let John (Alberts) know,” said Lt. Penny Lamp, jail administrator.
Barber added physical inmate counts are done every hour.
Lamp said once a month each door lock is checked to ensure that keys do work just in case there is an emergency.
“We have addressed this with John and he doesn’t want the jail staff to try and clean the inside locks out just in case we mess something up. So if we can’t do it, I need someone out there monthly to get these cleaned up,” said Lamp.
Barber said if the computer system were to go down, the jail staff would have to go through and manually open every door with a key, so the locks need to be clean.
Albert rendered his reasoning by saying it is easy to trash the locks and thus would prefer doing it himself just in case a problem arose.
His concern, with everything that needs to be done at the jail, was the amount of time, as well as money, that will be spent to address these problems. He further said an understanding is needed on all sides on what will be allowed for expenses and work hours.
As for the problems with the computer touch screen computer system and door malfunctions, they have been an ongoing problem, Barber said.
“Integrator points their finger at RR Brink and Brink at Integrator, and that doesn’t solve the problem, and that was when we had representatives there when we both replaced the central control computer system,” said Barber.
Since RR Brink and Integrator service member was there in 2007 the problem has not been fixed. Brink furnished equipment for the jail, which includes the lock mechanism. Alberts explained he tried to get Brink to come out but was referred to another serviceman the company deals with, claiming this serviceman has better knowledgeable to deal with the issue.
“We did get some things solved but we didn’t get our money’s worth because it didn’t come [directly from] Brink,” he said.
Albert said a full-time maintenance person is needed at the jail for the daily upkeep and to handle such problems.
“That is a 24/7 facility and I only have eight hours to do duties everywhere in the county,” he said. “If you only check them once a month you have 30 days between there to where something can get messed up.”
With the cutbacks at the sheriff’s office, these problems need to be fixed, said Barber.
Even though the locking system is daily run by Integrator, there is a spare pair of keys, but jail personnel don’t keep them on their person at all times.
“For security reasons we can’t do that because of the standards for the jail we can’t have keys accessible to inmates,” said Barber.
As for the locks being vandalized by inmates, Albert suggested maybe finding a cover to place over the lock.
Other maintenance issues including light bulbs in housing dorms need replaced, administrative and isolation cells are not working properly and the visitation area needs repairs, among other things.
Albert concurred that the priority should be with the key locks and then move on to other maintenance issues, and that these problems will be addressed.
In other news, Barber requested the signatures of the commissioners for the agreement reached by the sheriff’s office, employees and the Fraternal Order of Police agreeing to seven unpaid furlough days that will be taken by the end of 2009.
“This agreement will enable the sheriff’s office to continue to provide the needed level of crucial law enforcement services to the citizens of Knox County, by adverting laying off employees from the sheriff’s office,” said a press release from FOP Lodge 147.