In May 5 IssueBy John ThompsonTimes Journal Reporter
The Russell County Detention Center has now been operating for two and a half months, opening its doors to Russell County prisoners being held in Casey County on February 17. Since then it has operated at more than full capacity.
Dunbar gave updates this week on how operations have been proceeding, how the transition has went, how the overpopulation has been dealt with and what problems he has faced.
"My chief deputy (Neal Bell) and I sat down after the election," said Dunbar. "And we felt that somewhere down the road we'd encounter a hundred inmates. Two weeks ago I woke up and checked Jailtracker; 103 inmates." Dunbar went on to say that they had prepared for up to 100 inmates at the 84 bed facility by purchasing extra bedding material that could be used on the floor, "I've had to place an order for more mattresses and blankets," Dunbar said, "because this looks like this is going to be the range we're going to stay in."
Dunbar says overpopulation is allowed in the 15 percent range.
With the quick transition from no inmates to over 100 in a couple of months, it might be thought there would be some difficult situations. Not so, according to Dunbar. As of writing, the jail holds 96 inmates, with 33 being state inmates for which the county receives $31.34 per inmate, per day.
Currently there are eight prisoners on home incarceration, utilizing ankle bracelets that the county can rent at $7.50 a day. "The judges have been very good about the home incarceration," Dunbar said. "But with the population getting what it is, I think I'm going to have to push home incarceration a little more."
When the jail opened on February 17, Dunbar said he made a promise to the Fiscal Court he would have all of Russell County inmates transferred from Casey County; booked and housed by the following day, Friday. "We did all of that in 36 hours," Dunbar said. "It took us into the night on Friday night. I promised I'd have them back by midnight Friday night, and we did."
Though the transition happened quickly, Dunbar said "It was a very smooth transition. I really was concerned about that and we had to watch every move we made." Dunbar would then iterate what he would reiterate many times throughout the interview; his appreciation for his dedicated staff. "I'll tell you what, my staff, you be sure to put in there my staff is second to none." Dunbar said.
The jail employs 19 floor deputies, three office workers and four part time workers. In comparison, the Jackson County jail, a new jail facility that also opened recently and has a similar number of beds currently employs 38 staff members. The state Department of Corrections has recommended 24 full time floor deputies be maintained.
To date only there has only been one employee turnover, according to Dunbar.
When asked whether there had been any major incidences with the inmates in the jails brief time opened, Dunbar said, "According to other jailers, compared to some of things they're through with, we're just not seeing it; and I credit a lot of that to our staff and the way we run things."
The most significant event was an inmate that was to be moved out to a prison facility approximately one month after the opening of the jail, "His family came in with a box of shoes for him to take back to prison with him," Dunbar said, "naturally we searched it and it had mushrooms, marijuana and suboxin hidden in the bottom of the shoe. My staff immediately went out and arrested her and charged her with promoting contraband, a felony."
A subsequent sweep with dogs trained to find contraband turned up no instances of drugs, but it's not like incoming prisoners won't try to sneak things in.
Dunbar lifted an evidence bag from his desk, inside which held a syringe. "Right there, taken off a prison Saturday that we were booking. It was taped to his ankle when he came in and my staff found it. If that had of gotten in, it could have been very dangerous to anyone involved." Incidents like this, while not frequent, must always be guarded against, Dunbar explained.
"The rule is, it doesn't matter who they bring in, whether a prisoner is A.I. (alcohol intoxication) suspect or a murder suspect, you never turn your back on none of them."
"Even on our best day they're liable to get something in," Dunbar said, as he told of a prisoner who was spending 72 hours in "the hole," or isolation, after being caught smoking in the non-smoking facility.
The jail is hoping to increase, over time, the prisoner work release program. On Monday through Friday prisoners are sent out to the recycle center, litter patrol and community action. Nine inmates were out on that day.
Working with Adult Education Center Director Rodney Johnson, Dunbar said that 10 inmates are currently studying to receive the GED. "This has honestly went better than I ever thought it would," said Dunbar. "It has been very beneficial to us. I can go to a cell and there sits those GED students studying their books." To enter the program, inmates have to have been sentenced to at least 60 days incarceration, but Dunbar said that he has gotten word back from Johnson that a couple of prisoners who were unexpectedly released from jail have been showing up for class, showing their commitment to receiving their GED.
The detention center has been hosting tours through their facilities, with the bulk coming from field trips out of Russell County High School; a program Dunbar clearly delights in; "The other day I took a group of approximately 60 to 70 through here," Dunbar said, clarifying that they use caution and discretion, covering cell door windows so that prisoners would not be unintentionally recognized.
"I take them through and tell them what each cell is, then I take them out to the sally port (the area designated for booking incoming prisoners) and I give them about a 10 minute speech." Dunbar said the effect is noticeable in the students.
An effect Dunbar says he reinforces by taking to students to an emptied cell, then pulling the door shut behind, with him and the students inside; "I'm the last door in, and I pull the door to; and when that door shuts, it makes an echo, a loud sound. You could hear a pin drop," Dunbar said, "and I tell them that's a sound they never want to hear. It gets their attention."
Dunbar said that one of the Deputies had calculated that 30 percent of the inmates currently incarcerated are there on methamphetamine related charges. A figure Dunbar says that in his networking with other jailers reflects the degree of problem with the illegal substance throughout the state.
Deputy jailers have shown great resolve and caring in dealing with inmates who, upon admittance, begin withdrawals from their drug addictions. "When you see one in that shape, and they don't wait for permission, they (jailers) take the initiative to help. They carried one to the shower for five days," Dunbar said, "I saw her the other day (the ex-inmate) and she came up to hug me and told me she loved me."
The detention center works closely with the Christ-centered twelve step program "Celebrate Recovery" if the inmate is willing to participate. "It's hard to imagine what we see in here that the public doesn't see," Dunbar said, "The public doesn't see the extremes we have to go to sometimes to keep an inmate safe, and alive at times."
Inmates spiritual needs are met by a jail ministry that visits every other night, available to inmates and employees alike.
At the last Fiscal Court meeting Dunbar had approached the court to inform them that his salary was not in constitutional compliance, as he was being paid on a scale for a jailer maintaining a "Life Safety Jail" or jail that does not house state inmates instead of a "Full Service Jail" that not only is capable of housing state inmates, but has multiplied the jail population capability in the county by six or eight times what it once was.
Dunbar went to great lengths at the meeting and in the interview to make clear he was not requesting a pay raise, only that the county operate within the rules as laid out by the Kentucky Revised Statutes.
Bobby Waits, President of the Kentucky Jailer's Association, said, "He's coming out on the short end of the stick and it's not his fault. He's taking a little criticism, what I'm understanding. The bottom line is he's the lowest paid jailer in the state of Kentucky for operating a full service jail with his population."
The difference in salary for the two different classifications of jailer's is $8,000.
Waits, who is the Shelby County Jailer, said he had encouraged Dunbar to pursue the course taken, and that it was in the interest of the Kentucky Jailer's Association to pursue the case in order to not set a precedent, allowing a Jailer to be paid under a KRS code that no longer applies.
The jailer's salary was set prior to the beginning of the new year, before the new jail was opened on February 17. Waits said he was writing the Attorney General for an opinion on the matter, "If it's an honest mistake and the law would allow you (the court) to go back and fix it, I don't think it's an issue," said Waits, "but it may be a constitutional issue, as we dig into it a little deeper, and there may not be a lot we can do at this point."
As President of the Kentucky Jailer's Association Waits is responsible for looking after the interests of the jailer's in the state.
Both Dunbar and Waits said they thought the setting of the jailer's salary had been an honest mistake by the Fiscal Court and only look forward to clarification of whether his salary is to be determined using guidelines for the Life Safety Jail, when the salary was set months earlier, or under the statutes that govern a Full Service Jail.
While population control has not been a problem, Dunbar also says that beyond some minor issues that are bound to happen with a new building, the structure has been performing excellently, and contractors have been quick to respond to remedy any problems that have occurred.
Addressing the issue of televisions being available to the inmates, Dunbar clarified that inmates have always had televisions, and previously were able to maintain their own privately owned televisions, a situation the new jail is not set up for.
"The televisions have also proven to be effective disciplinary tools," Dunbar said, relaying that a policy change he implemented was that inmates are to have beds made at wake up and they must remain made throughout the day. "The first day we put that policy in place, the next day maybe 75 percent were in compliance, so they lost television for the day. After that we've had 100 percent compliance," Dunbar said.
Televisions come from a fund provided by the state specifically designated toward inmate entertainment, and television has proven to be an effective way of controlling inmates, keeping them pacified while lowering risks to floor deputies.
A local ministry has also been providing books for the inmates to read. Dunbar said that inmates are allowed to bring two paperbacks in with them, after being inspected. Currently there is no library or plans to develop a library, though a partnership with the Russell County Library could be a possibility.
Citizens of Russell County can track the inmate population of the Russell County Detention Center by going to www.jailtracker.com and then choosing Russell County Jail after choosing "Current Jails" from the menu, or you can go to www.russellcountydetention.com. The constantly updated website give pertinent information regarding the inmates being kept at the jail, including a picture, identifying data, as well as what charges the inmate is being incarcerated for as well as upcoming court dates, fines levied and release date.
Finally Dunbar said his Class D Coordinator, James Grimes, is always looking for state inmates to house; "We're looking for them every day," Dunbar said, "James is doing a great job looking every day for new state inmates to house. In fact my staff, my Chief Deputy (Neal Bell), he's second to none. I'm just surrounded by a great staff, and I want you to quote me on that."
Dunbar has been asked to be the Guest Speaker at the Board of Directors of the Kentucky Jailer's Association in Covington, Kentucky later this month, an honor he says he's looking forward to sharing his experiences in opening a new jail. While there he will share much of what he's shared with us, as well as sharing his dedication to the work he's chosen.
"I'm a working jailer," said Dunbar, "I wake up at five o'clock every morning, and I'm down here usually by daylight. I love my job. When I get out of bed I love my job. I look forward to coming down here. It's not for everybody," Dunbar continued, "My staff, I feel they love their job. If I had one said they didn't love their job I'd ask them to consider doing something else."