In Dec. 23 IssueBy John ThompsonTimes Journal Reporter
Bobby Dunbar is a busy man these days. Since being elected as the new jailer in the recent election he has had to contend with enough changes to wilt a lesser person. But Dunbar says he's up to the task.
Dunbar recently discussed his new role as an elected official in charge of a massive new project in the new 86 bed correction facility. He also recently traveled to Marion County to set up a training schedule for his new staff of 23 who will help him run the new jail.
Dunbar said he campaigned hard and was under the illusion that he would be able to relax for a few days before having to get at preparing for the new position. Reality hit him when he received a call the day after the election from Judge-Executive Mickey Garner saying two meetings had been set up to begin the transition with him and the new jail. It was not an unwelcome phone call. Dunbar expressed a lot of enthusiasm for the newly elected office, as well as his experience thus far working with the Fiscal Court.
"The fiscal court has been so accommodating and open to what I've had to say. They want this thing to succeed as much as I do. They've been good to give me what I need but I know that won't always be the case, but we'll work together, I want to be sure to work together with the fiscal court," Dunbar said.
Being aware of the tight schedule for whoever won the election, Dunbar said he went right to work receiving training after winning the primary. "I've trained, trained, trained, but it's a new day. We're walking into a new jail that Russell County hasn't seen of this magnitude. I felt like I had to do this in anticipation of being elected. I couldn't wait until November 2 and see if I was going to be elected and then start on November 3. I had to be on top of it, so that's what we've done."
Dunbar is a lifelong resident of Russell County, where he was raised with his three brothers and three sisters. He considers theirs a close-knit family brought closer by his campaign.
"How many times did me and my three brothers sit around a table and have breakfast before the campaign started?" Dunbar said, looking over at his brother Billy. "I don't know that we did. But there were different mornings and different evenings through this campaign that me and my three brothers were sitting together, having a meal together. It just helped us grow closer."
Dunbar has been a husband to Debby Russell for 24 years and they have two children; their son Jeron who attends Western Kentucky University, and a daughter, Jera, who attends Salem Elementary.
In 1965 his father, Jim B. Dunbar, was elected jailer, and Dunbar says it's just always seemed a part of his life, "When I went to work out at the jail in 2006 I just developed a passion for the job. I soon learned the jailer planned on retiring and I knew then I would run."
Dunbar said there are a number of aspects to being a jailer that he enjoys but is clear on the first priority.
"The number one rule is to watch over the inmates and maintain order, but there's a lot more to it after that," Dunbar said, going on to outline responsibilities such as personnel, different bookkeeping and accounting and maintaining good working relationships with county and state officials.
One aspect that he said he really looks forward to is the possibility of helping make a difference in people's lives. "I've got two ways I look at an inmate. You never turn your back on an inmate," Dunbar said, saying he emphasizes this with his staff. "They're incarcerated, and it's for a reason. But number two, that's also someone's mom, dad, brother, sister, son or daughter and our goal is to prevent re-incarceration of inmates."
He said he's interested in implementing a work release program anywhere they're able to be utilized.
"I'd like to see them put to use in those areas that need cleaned up in Russell County," Dunbar said. He's also begun working on setting up a GED program.
"I've already been contacted by someone who wants to get that set up. I think if we can get those people a GED we can help them become good taxpaying citizens. I really want to see rehabilitation of that nature."
The new jail will not contain a library, and lack of available room may make such an endeavor difficult. "Right now we're not looking to have a jail library. There are only two offices where we really need four. But I have already been contacted by somebody who wants to work toward that process. So we will work toward getting a library established."
Beyond a lot of training and coordinating, Dunbar said he's working on a small personal project he's looking forward to completing. He is in the process of collecting available photographs of past jailers, even reaching back into the 1800's, for display in the lobby of facility.
Dunbar said he, along with his second in command, Neal Bell, are working closely with the old jail staff, who have been retained, and integrating the newly hired staff into a cohesive work force; a formidable task with 22 to 23 employees all getting used to an entirely new situation.
"We're getting ready to have our third staff meeting when I take them all to Christmas Dinner tonight at the Country Cafe," Dunbar said. "I've invited them and all their spouses to come so we can all get to know one another. It's important to me right now that we get off on the right foot."
Dunbar said he had learned that the new detention center was able to hold "controlled intake" inmates, which are inmates serving six to 10 year sentences. He had initially believed the facility would only be licensed for up to Class D felony inmates serving one to five year sentences.
As the jail opens it has been promised around 10 or so state inmates to start, and the hope is that there will be a steady number to keep the new facility at near capacity after everyone becomes established.
"Those are the paying customers. The state inmates are paying for this. The county inmates we'll be working, and this is where a good relationship with the county attorney and district judges will be important."
Dunbar went on to say that locals that are unable to make bond will need to have home incarceration wherever possible, "so we're not feeding them three meals a day and them taking a bed that could be a paying bed."
Other points of interest in the new facility were pointed out during a tour of the facility:
Food preparation for the facility is contracted, with assigned help from the inmates.
Laundry room duties will also be performed by inmates.
Video will be utilized where possible for bonding, and visitation will itself take place through "video visitation" where the visitor will only see the inmate through a video screen.
At all times a deputy jailer on duty will be locked into a control room where a bank of monitors will continuously stream video from more than 60 cameras set up through the facility.
Dunbar said he wanted Russell County residents to know that, as he promised in his campaign, a pledge of "excellence in administration," finally saying, "I really want to thank the people of Russell County for entrusting me with this position and I appreciate their vote of confidence. I really want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, and I look forward to being the county's jailer for the next four years."