I have repeatedly written about my concerns in the jail over the years. Since Sheriff Ellenburg ran on a promise of transparency I requested to be allowed to actually tour the dentition facility so I could give a first hand account of the conditions there.
He granted my request and I was allowed to tour the facility with another gentleman last week.
I knew what I had heard from interviewing previous inmates and their families but I was still not prepared for the conditions I saw, especially in the women’s section of the facility. I have sent a list of additional questions to the sheriff for clarification as I plan to do several informational articles about the jail.
This article is mostly about the conditions in the women’s area. To say it horrified me is an understatement. It literally was all I could do to not cry as I toured it with the matron assigned to me. When she opened the door to the area the heat and humidity took my breath. It felt like walking into a suffocatingly oppressive steam room.
She explained to me that the ventilation ducts did not work and they had fans in the hallways trying to move air some. The women were crowded in the cells with many lying on their sleeping mats on the floor as there are not enough beds.
Mold was everywhere. Many of the ceiling tiles were covered with it. The bars were rusting with multiple layers of paint peeling off of them. One of the inmates who had been there a while told me they had to paint the bars themselves in the past when officials knew someone was coming to tour.
She said the toilet was not flushing in her area and the other toilet in the main area was leaking on the bottom. They had put plastic bags around it to try to keep it off the mats they slept on.
The walls in the hallways were dripping wet when I touched them. The high upper windows allowed very little light into the area. I was told it was worse when it rained.
I asked if the inmates got to go outside and was told only when they had a court date. Some of these woman had been in there quite a long time awaiting trial. If someone is too poor to make bail they have to stay until their court date. This places a huge burden on the financially disadvantaged persons in our county.
We went through a door to another area and the door had sanitary napkins stuck to it. I asked why I was told that the door slammed shut so hard and stuck so they were placed there to pad it. Doorways had equipment blocking them. The matron actually had to move stuff out into another hallway to open a door for me to go through.
They did tell me they had hot water for showers now but that had not always been the case in the past. As I was leaving my heart broke when an older female inmate begged me to please do something to help them. I promised her I would try my best to let people know what the conditions were there.
I have watched many movies showing prisons and jails in third world countries. I never in a million years would have believed that our detention center/jail was worse when it came to housing women, but it in fact is.
As I stepped out into the men’s section the air became much cooler and less humid but I still felt like I needed a puff on my inhaler to keep breathing properly. I thought to myself that, inmates not withstanding, how in the world was this not a danger to the employees working in these areas?
It is a fact that heat breeds aggression, and mold affects breathing, which in turn affects thought processes. This area is a disaster waiting to happen. I wondered how many jail employees have respiratory problems.
This part of the jail was built in the 1970’s (fifty years ago) and was supposed to hold approx. 29 inmates, as that was the available number of beds. It averages 35 to 40 female inmates most of the time, which is why so many are now sleeping on mats on the floor.
I asked Sheriff Ellenburg if anything could be done to alleviate these conditions. He said they planed to fix the ventilation system and clean the rust and bars but they had to figure out where to house the women safely while this was happening.
This is a situation that has occurred through years of systemic neglect, not only by previous sheriffs, but by the County Commissioners. The Commissioners/County are responsible for funding, maintenance and upkeep of the Detention Center.
There are many other things that I will cover in further articles, but this situation is critical.
I do understand that all the Commissioners except Mr. Benfield have recently toured the facility at Sheriff Ellenburg’s request. What I don’t understand is why DA Ted Bell, his assistants, and the magistrates have not toured this area. They are the ones sending people here for extended periods of time. They should at least know what the conditions of living are that they are sentencing people to.
We as a community are better than this. It is inhumane of us to allow this to go on. Regardless of the crimes these women are charged with some have not been found guilty as of yet, but still must live in these horrific conditions. Some for extended times waiting for the district attorney to call their cases.
Our Commissioners need to do better. We have a new Sheriff that is trying to keep his campaign promises and make the Sheriff’s Office and Detention Center a better/safer place for everyone who comes through there as well as his employees. He can’t do it alone.
Call or contact your Commissioners about this issue. They have been there and know about it first hand. They need to address this. It is just not about the money. This is a human rights issue. No one in the United States should have to be imprisoned in these circumstances.
As I was begged to do while there…PLEASE HELP!
Contact your Commissioners to address this problem NOW via email by clicking here (their email addresses are under their pictures on the page) or call and leave a message at 828-287-6060.
These women are neighbors, family, mothers, and daughters. As the Golden Rule says “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”