Union County Jail
By KELI JACOBI News-T imes Staff The Union County Finance Committee agreed Thursday to forward a request to Quorum Court members for $190,000 in capital improvements to tighten security at the county jail.
Union County Sheriff Ken Jones requested the funding, telling committee members that design fl aws and shoddy workmanship by the contractors who built the jail signifi cantly contributed to last yearís security breaches there. On two separate occasions in 2006, several inmates escaped by breaking through hollow cinder block walls leading into a plumbing crawl space from shared jail cells, then scaled wire fencing surrounding the perimeter of the 16-year-old facility.
Outdated technology and equipment at the jail has also raised concerns, said Jones, who told members that half of the 22 cameras originally installed at the jail are no longer functional and the central control panel which serves as the "brains" of the jailís security system is worn out.
When asked what percentage of the security breaches were caused by faulty structural details and what percentage was a refl ection of procedural problems at the jail Ė such as regular cell inspections by jailers Ė Jones bore responsibility.
"I take 100 percent of the blame any time something goes wrong at the jail," he said. "We do inspect the cells. Iím not going to say itís every hour ... or even every 12 hours, but Iím not going to sit here and blame a jailer or break it down into percentages. Anytime something happens, itís my fault."
Union County Judge Bobby Edmonds said fi nancing the project would be provided through county general funds and that there was enough money to cover the costs associated with the improvements. Further savings would be recognized with labor provided by jail staff, according to Jones.
Numerous walls within jail cells which were once hollow have already been fi lled with concrete and 4-inch bands have been put over every plumbing door, he said.
"Itíd take dynamite now to get out of that plumbing door," said Jones. A breakdown of the improvements and their costs was distributed to fi - nance committee members on Thursday. In the memo, Jones asked for the following: ē Metal enforcement of plumbing access doors, $3,000 ē Concrete repairs and en forcement of cell walls in the maximum security section, $3,000 ē Metal and welding - cell/ plumbing closet walls en forcement, $5,000 ē Interior cell doors metal and welding repairs, $3,000 ē Improvements and replace ment exterior lighting, $6,000 ē Replacement-upgrade-re pairs to security door control boards, $85,000 ē Replacement-upgrade-re pairs to security cameras and monitoring systems, $70,000 "The jail is designed to be controlled with a limited number of staff," said Jones. "We have adequate employ ees, if we have an adequately designed jail."
The county inspector hired by quorum court members midway through the jailís con struction earlier expressed his own issues with workmanship Ė the mixing and laying of mortar during extremely cold weather, since cold weather retards the hydration of the cement in the mortar mix.
Phone calls made by the News-T imes to the jailís contractor and the architect were not returned last month following the escape.
In other business Thursday, members also forward to the Quorum Court an ordinance which would transfer funds generated by the jailís commissary to the jail maintenance fund.
They also agreed to foward an ordinance which would levy an additional fi ne of $5 to be collected from any defendant pleading guilty, or who is found guilty, of misdemeanor or traffi c violations in district court to defray costs of incarcerating inmates at the jail.