Sankey, CCSO weigh in on Crenshaw jail security

Published 10:20 am Thursday, January 8, 2015

With two escapes since October, officials are taking a closer look at the Crenshaw County Jail’s security.

Commission Chairman Charlie Sankey Jr. said Sheriff Charles West would call in experts to provide the county with options to remedy the problem before another inmate escapes. He expects to have solutions by the next commission meeting.

“We are going to address this issue. I can assure you of that,” he said.

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West said the top of the recreation area is covered with a chain-link fence that can be taken apart by breaking one strip of wire. The rest of the area has a stronger fencing material that is not as easily manipulated.

“There’s always been a problem with that,” he said.

After October’s escape from the same exercise yard Paul Holley escaped from last week, contractors were called in to repair the fencing. The hole above the door made by the escapee was covered with metal sheeting at a cost of about $1,500. The rest of the chain-link was not replaced. Contractors did nothing to the other exercise yards.

Sankey is not convinced repairing the fencing will stop escapes.

“A crook is a crook and you can’t make something that a crook can’t get out of. You hear of escapes all the time,” he said. “Some years ago, we had the same issue at the jail. Sheriff got a contractor in and added fencing around the recreational area.”

The exercise areas have had the most security breeches, but Sankey said the county had a legal obligation to provide outdoor space for recreation. All Crenshaw inmates, regardless of the crime they are accused of or penchant for violence, have daily access to one of the jail’s four exercise areas.

But the fencing was not the main culprit behind inmate escapes, according to West.

“It’s human error, not equipment,” he said. “Someone lost their job after the last escape and someone may lose their job from this one.”

Sankey acknowledged that human error, smaller forces and high turnovers at the jail may have all played a part in security.

“I asked the sheriff why they are out there unattended. I think that is going to be the big issue,” he said.

Since Sankey has served as commissioner, he said West has never asked for additional funding to fix the fencing or for a larger budget. In fact, Sankey said West often returns unused funds at the end of the fiscal year.

“Even if it’s human error, if that fence is suspect, then it’s still something that needs to be done,” Sankey said. “If a human keeps making an error and the facility keeps failing because of that human error, then the facility still has to be fixed. But, I’m not going to overstep the sheriff.”