THE BIG ASK: Sheriff asks for 9FT, 4 PT employees, repairs in jail

Published 2:38 am Wednesday, April 24, 2019

In an effort to improve the Covington County Jail and overall working conditions in his department, Sheriff Blake Turman has requested additional personnel and facilities improvements that are estimated to cost more than $382,225.

In a letter addressed to the Covington County Commission presented Tuesday, Turman stated that he has assessed the Covington County Sheriff’s Department and included improvements to the jail.

“In order to serve our community better, and to improve better protection for our officers, I am requesting the following personnel positions and facility needs,” Turman said. “These are minimal requests that in no way reflect optimum working conditions. However, with these added employees and repairs, we can offer better service and protection to our community and offer a safer working environment for our employees.”

Turman is requesting four corrections officers and one repair and maintenance worker for the jail.

“In an effort to reduce damages to the jail, these requested personnel are necessary,” Turman said. “In recent times, the jail has exploded with inmates and services have been reduced because of it. Inmates have not been allowed to go outside for exercise because there is not enough staff to accommodate it. These inmates are having to stay isolated from the outside and the lack of fresh air has caused these inmates to be destructive. An idle mind being the devil’s playhouse is true.”

Sgt. Greg Jackson said that daily, there are five correction officers that take care of 150 men in the jail.

“I’m not talking about just in the block either,” Jackson said during a jail tour. “I’m talking about five guys in the whole jail. I came to help them last week and I honestly thought that I was going to die Tuesday night.”

Jail administrator Scott Racz said that out of the five corrections officers, two of them have responsibilities that take them out of the jail daily, leaving only three in the jail to maintain the inmates.

“We’ve got one that is in between here and the courthouse,” Racz said. “And then another one that takes inmates to the nurses or doctors, so they are usually not even here.”

Turman also requested four patrol deputies, two part-time process servers and two part-time deputies.

“In an effort to provide more coverage, better service and officer safety, it is requested that four positions be opened for patrol deputies,” Turman said. “These deputies will fill a void during the normal working day. The trouble areas within our county will be patrolled better with attention being paid to community policing in an effort to reduce crime. Drugs are an issue in Covington County, so these deputies will assist other deputies in the effort to intercept these drugs before they get into our schools and homes.

“Police presence is the number one weapon used against crime. Covington County is more than 1,044 square miles in area,” he said. “At times, there is only one deputy available for the entire county. With the additional deputies, this would reduce response times and save lives.”

As for the jail facility, Turman said it’s in dire need of security and maintenance.

“Seventy percent of the inmate cells do not have proper lighting,” Turman said. “This causes difficulty for the corrections officers to observe within the cells. Also, there are numerous 110-volt electric outlets that have exposed wires and are a fire hazard. My recommendation is to disable these outlets and secure the holes to prevent a hiding area for contraband.”

Turman said that there are several other maintenance issues in the jail.

“There are several windows to the outside that are broken out and allow access to the outside of the building,” Turman said. “These windows must be secured to prevent contraband from coming into the jail. There are air vents in the kitchen and several other areas in the facility that are clogged and do not allow proper ventilation of air. These vents need to be replaced with a better vent that will allow it to be cleaned properly. There is a drainage issue in the kitchen and washroom and the fencing material that is located on the upper tier of the inmate area must be repaired or replaced. Inmates are using the metal to make weapons.”

Prisoner clothing is an ongoing issue, Turman said, as well as a shortage of mattresses.

“In the past, inmates were not made to reimburse the county for the damage that they caused to the standard issue mattress,” Turman said. “At this time, the majority of mattresses do not have covers therefore causing unsanitary conditions. The cost of 250 mattresses that would cover all inmates and a few extra would be $12,225.

“Also at this time, there is a shortage of clothing,” he said. “We are looking into different avenues to assess the shortages and we found that at the price of $20 per uniform. It would be adequate. With 500 uniforms of different sizes, it would be $10,000.”

Turman said that instead of being so hard on people, they need to unclench their fists and help them out.

“We are just trying to improve their living conditions,” Turman said. “You can say, ‘Oh, they’re in jail, what do they expect?’ Well, you know, they are human. Everybody in there has a momma and a daddy. They may not care anything about them, but they have a grandmomma or a granddaddy. We have got to stop being so hard on people.”

The Covington County Commission received the letter of the requests and told Turman that they will look over it and discuss it at the next scheduled meeting.