Corrections, public safety committee discuss jail improvements

Published 4:08 pm Thursday, February 7, 2013


COLUMBIANA – The Shelby County Commission Public Safety Committee met with members of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department to discuss improvements for the Shelby County Jail Feb. 7.

Commissioners Lindsey Allison and Rick Shepherd represented the Public Safety Committee, and Division Commander of Corrections Capt. Jay Fondren and Lt. Dennis Blackerby, along with Chief Deputy John Samaniego, represented the Shelby County Correctional Facility.

The correctional facility underwent an assessment by the National Institute of Corrections in June 2012.

The assessment report returned with a “good number of recommendations,” many of which the department already has addressed, according to Fondren.

The jail currently houses 375 inmates, with the capability of 500.

“It’s manageable for the amount of staff we have today,” said Fondren, who added that 11 deputies and two supervisors man 12-hour shifts on a rotating schedule of off days. “If it was 475 (inmates), in my opinion, it would not be safe.”

Samaniego discussed a plan to add more segregation and medical cells to the existing jail, as the number of inmates with mental health needs has increased.

Fondren said many segregation cells are used for inmates with mental health issues instead of for disciplinary action, as space dictates.

The Chilton-Shelby Mental Health Center has recently hired a fulltime employee to handle evaluations at the jail for four hours per day, Samaniego said. A psychiatrist evaluates inmates once a month, he said.

“We need to appropriate some mental health beds (at Shelby Baptist). Fifteen would be fine,” Samaniego said.

The number of jail employees could also become an issue when conducting emergency planning evacuations and drills, Fondren said.

To conduct evacuations, some officers man the stations to open doors, while others remain in unaffected sections. Of the 11 officers on duty, only four to five would be available to evacuate approximately 200 inmates, according to Fondren.

The NIC report also showed the jail’s need to improve programming for inmates. The facility currently offers Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and Fondren said the programming is “moving toward heroin awareness, as well.”

Fondren discussed the possibilities of starting a GED, or General Educational Development, program, but would need someone to run the program for inmates.

Shepherd proposed the Public Safety Committee meet with the heads of the correctional facility every quarter, with the next meeting set for May. Samaniego said he would confer with Sheriff Chris Curry to determine the sheriff’s “top three priorities” concerning changes to the jail facility.