January 18, 2022

County jail visits to improve

In a figurative way, Union County Sheriff Mark Shepherd said the jail staff wants inmates to be seen so they can get out of there.

The plan is to do just that.

With Union County Board of Supervisors approving $115,525 last month for courthouse improvements, Shepherd will use some of those funds to improve the setting and procedure of visiting inmates. Those changes are expected to improve the overall flow of inmates and jail staff.

“Our jailers want inmates out,” Shepherd said. “Not in the way to get them back on the street, but to get them through their process. The longer the wait, the longer the wait for them to get moving.”

The funding is from the American Rescue act, giving municipalities money to make up from lost revenue because of COVID, approved by the federal government.

Shepherd and courthouse maintenance are researching installing two, hybrid office cubicles to be installed in the booking area of the jail. Those cubicles will be dedicated to inmate visits, and expect to be much more efficient than what has been done in the past.

“Inmates have a right to see their attorney,” Shepherd said explaining how it has been has created other challenges. The planned changes will make things feel better.

“We can actually have more than one visit at a time,” Shepherd said about the new plans. “We have to close the booking room for a visit. The visits are in the booking room and there are no barriers.”

If there is a visit occurring while a law enforcement officer brings in another arrest, the visit has to finish before anything else can happen.

“We have had police officers and deputies hold a suspect for 30 minutes. They can be chained to a wall but they have to be monitored. That ties up an officer who should be on patrol,” he said.

In addition to the new visitation cubicles, Shepherd is expecting additional security cameras for the cubicles.

Shepherd said there is not a schedule on when the cubicles will be installed. He is expecting minimal disruption to sheriff department and jail operations during the work. He is also researching where to install shatter-resistant shields in his department. The courthouse is also planning the same item. He is hoping the entire facility can be converted to electronic scan of identification cards to access rooms and hallways to replace the traditional key.

Shepherd is also looking for additional help with the jail inmates. He is planning to meet with Crossroads Behavioral Health services to work with certain inmates.

“A jail is threefold to protect, punish and rehabilitate,” he said. “Some inmates are spun with mental-health issues, drug use or a combination. If we can get them on the road to healing and medication management, recidivism rate greatly improves.”

Shepherd said having those services when needed will also improve the process of an arrest.

“It is a huge iron in the fire we want to take a look at. It will also be a huge advantage to the inmates and the taxpayer. Crossroads works with grants to help obtain medications. That is exciting. We just had a budget amendment that showed twice as many arrests. No budget will hold that. That also means we doubled for room and board.”