Jail remains cold, empty

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 31, 2003

The Butler County Jail remains closed for business due to the lack of heat at the facility.

Sheriff Diane Harris closed the jail on Friday, Dec. 26 after inmates spent two nights in the old building with freezing temperatures.

She and her staff transported the inmates to the Lowndes County facility where they remain.

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Harris’ office confirmed on Tuesday the heat remained off and that no one was working on it.

Of course, there are costs involved with the prisoners remaining in Lowndes County on several levels.

Harris said Friday if one of her inmates needs medical attention in Lowndes County, a deputy will have to drive to Hayneville and transport him back to Greenville.

Anyone arrested by the Greenville Police Department, the Georgiana Police Department, McKenzie Police Department or the Alabama State Troopers, will have to be transported by a sheriff’s deputy to Hayneville.

Harris said this costs gas, wear on the vehicle and takes a deputy out of the county and off patrol.

During this closed period, jailers are off the clock.

Deputies are making routine stops by the facility to monitor it.

The current jail situation is another chapter in the history of the facility.

Several years ago, the County Commission met with architects about building a new jail.

A plan was chosen and shortly afterwards a site was located next door to the old health department.

A court cost increase was approved to raise funds for the construction.

Yet the county still has the same old jail.

Recently, the Southern Center for Human Rights notified Harris, the Butler County Commission and its attorney that following investigations into complaints by inmates, they found several major problems.

Attorney Sarah Geraghty who wrote the letter provided a copy to the Greenville Advocate.

In it she wrote that investigators found that it appears the jail reverted back to &uot;conditions that prevailed prior to the filing of the Ball v. Butler County case and the damages cases brought on behalf of Joe Marsh and Leroy Owens.&uot;

The letter accuses that the county jail is in &uot;poor physical condition and that it does not provide adequate security, supervision, medical or mental health care.&uot;

She cites the following:

N &uot;Inmate Eddie Roy Lewis, who suffered a stroke prior to his arrest, did not get his needed medication filled after he was locked up. Lewis has on several occasions suffered from severe chest pains.&uot;

N &uot;An inmate claims because a hand wound was not properly cared for, he can no longer feel his thumb.&uot;


&uot;In November 2003, an inmate’s neck was cut by another inmate.

The injured inmate hid the injuries from administrators after being threatened by the perpetrator.&uot;

N &uot;On December 12, 2003, another person was beaten and injured.

It appears that predatory inmates are able to injure and intimidate others at the jail because administrators fail to supervise the living areas adequately.&uot;

N &uot;The inmates who witness assaults on other inmates are too afraid to report incidents for fear of their own safety.&uot;

N &uot;There is no classification system separating inmates based on their alleged crimes.

N &uot;Weapons are common in the jail… We have heard reports of inmates being assaulted with plunger handles, toothbrushes sharpened into a point, knives, barbed wire, and razor blades.&uot;

N &uot;Maintenance and sanitation are inadequate.

Our investigation has uncovered serious maintenance and sanitation problems in the jail.

Inmates report mold growth on the walls and the presence of standing water in the shower area.

Showers are filthy and covered in rust.

N &uot;In addition, locks on the front side of the jail do not work properly, preventing inmates from being housed there…And, on the back side of the jail, two windows are stuck open, allowing cold winter air to come into the living areas.

Geraghty said Tuesday from her office in Atlanta that the center became involved after inmates called complaining about some of the same problems as before the last lawsuit, &uot;Ball v. Butler County&uot; was filed.

&uot;Inmates called complaining about some of the same things as before,&uot; she said.

&uot;That jail is in terrible shape.&uot;

She said Harris moving the inmates was a step in the right direction, and the county should use this opportunity to do something about the jail or least where inmates are housed.

&uot;Our position would be now that the inmates have all been moved why keep pouring money into a structure that is falling apart?&uot; Geraghty said. &uot;At this stage, we have made only a preliminary investigation into the conditions in the jail.

The county has to take reasonable measures to guarantee the health and safety of the inmates.

Unfortunately it doesn’t appear that it is happening right now.&uot;