Behind the walls

bbashioum@demo-mo.comOctober 25, 2013 

The daily operations behind the walls of the Cass County Jail is a juggling act requiring both precision and austerity.

Inmates, for the most part, are segregated and housed by the severity of their offense. The management of feeding, clothing and housing inmates is dependent on taxpayers.

Both are responsibilities the Cass County Sheriff’s Office doesn’t take lightly.

Whereas law enforcement generally exists to be reactive by responding to complaints and emergency calls, the jail takes a proactive approach to conducting threat assessment according to the crime charged and past criminal activities.

Operating a jail to manage the influx of more than 3,000 inmates annually is a costly endeavor. It costs about $70 a day to keep an inmate, and not all of those costs are recouped through the state.

Costs incurred when keeping an inmate include three meals a day – two of which must be hot, laundry, medical care, transportation to court, and to get mail.

On average, the jail is the safekeeping for 120 individuals who have committed various crimes, from small misdemeanor offenses to homicide suspects.

Typically, most of the inmates are simply passing through after being arrested and awaiting their day in court.

“On average, deputies in the jail receive and release between 9 and 10 inmates a day,” Sgt. Ryan Monroe said. “Some days there are dramatically more, and some days are dramatically less.”

Several deputies recently spoke about the jail’s operations to a group of Cass County Sheriff’s Office Citizen Academy participants.

Under state law, jails are required to accept all prisoners unless they appear to be unconscious, suffering from a serious illnes or injury, or seriously impaired by alcohol or controlled substance.

Upon an alledged criminal’s arrival a jail, the alleged suspect goes through a booking process. Those tasks, performed by an alert, attentitive deputy works to identify the arrestee, conduct a proper search and perform a medical screening.

Monroe said the night shift in the jail is the most interesting.

“There’s never a dull moment,” he said. “When you get someone in, they’re usually either highly intoxicated, or just high. You can roll the dice at what they may have ingested into their system.”

There are several different kinds of inmate classifications at the Cass County Jail, and they’re typically housed based on the type of crime they allegedly committed.

Minimum-security inmates who are incarcerated for maybe for a traffic violation, unpaid child support, or for court-ordered shock time.

The bulk of the jail’s population are medium security inmates.

Maximum-security inmates are given their classification based on the severity of a crime, the potential time that they may have to look forward to in prison, and prior knowledge about an inmate.

Highest-segregation security is for inmates, for whatever reason, can’t function in a standard jail environment.

From inside the jail’s control room, an operator carries a shoulder of responsibility for overseeing the security of strict access throughout the facility and the indirect supervision of inmates.

The operator is responsible for unlocking doors throughout the facility, constantly checking on inmates under suicide watch, assisting lawyers and public defenders in meeting with their clients, answering incoming phones, and dealing with ongoing requests and issues of inmates, are a few of the responsibilities they oversee.

Video surveillance is employed to record all activity and to enable deputies to supervise several housing units simultaneously.

In a seemingly synchronized fashion, the ability to multitask is a must for the employee in this position as the front door is always revolving, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The jail facility, completed in September 2003, has been described as a difference from “day and night” compared to the former jail facility at 208 W. Wall Street.

The previous facility, which opened in the 1960s, had a 72-person maximum occupancy and could house 12 female inmates, 24 minimum security inmates, six working inmates, six sex offenders and 24 medium security inmates.

There were no designated areas for segregation or special cells for inmates with medical conditions. “The safety was just interesting,” Monroe said.

The newer facility, which can house up to 150 inmates, has updated security and much more room, along with extra space for continued growth.

The jail currently offers 16 female medium security beds, eight female minimum security beds, 48 medium security male beds, 16 maximum security male beds, 48 minimum security male beds, and eight segregation beds.

But even with the added space and extra security measures, the jail is operating at about the same staffing level.

“They were running with the same staffing, or less, than what we run with now,” Monroe said.

Jail population growth continues to be steadily increasing. The average daily population has increased from 82 inmates in 2008 to more than 120 in the last three years, and a large reason for the growth is the access to mental health care has been greatly reduced.

“You will find a lot them that come into our facility are suffering from some sort of mental illness,” Captain Mitch Phillips.

Deputies work with physicians to determine mental and medical assessments to determine the severity of an inmate’s condition and how they should be housed.

Due to the wide variety of inmates held in Cass County, the security has to be top-notch. Cameras are everywhere, 255 of them, watching every move throughout the facility.

“As we move throughout the facility, the control room deputies follow us on the cameras,” Monroe said.

Deputies keep a careful eye on what inmates do during their time, especially with making sure any type of contraband, including drugs, weapons, alcohol and lighters, are restricted.

“Anything that they bring in that we feel could be detrimental to our facility is contraband,” Phillips said.

Contraband is typically brought in by family and friends of inmates, or sometimes by officers who are either unethical or untrained.

Privileges in the jail are also slim as deputies work to maintain order. Those include snacks from the commissary, visitations and phone calls. There is no television, computers or many other forms of entertainment. When privileges are taken away, inmates are often to realize their mistakes fast. “If you only have two or three things that you get to look forward to, and you’re not getting any of that, it has a big impact,” Phillips said.

Under no circumstances should meals be modified for disciplinary purposes or as a reward for good inmate behavior, but there is a legend that exists at the jail if an inmate uses their food or diningware inappropriately.

“If you’re one who likes to throw your food, or use your cup to urinate in and throw on deputies when they walk by, we will modify your meal to what is called a segregation loaf,” Monroe said. “Basically they take your breakfast, lunch and dinner and put it in a big blender. They blend it all together, put some flour into it, bake it into a loaf, then break it into three pieces.”

Monroe said typically, when inmates hear the description, they quit whatever they’re doing.

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