Jones Co. Jail inspection points to staffing issues

Board of Supervisors
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     According to a new jail inspection report, the Jones County Jail is experiencing staffing issues.

     Sheriff Greg Graver, Jail Administrators Mike Elkin and Tess LeMense, and Iowa Department of Corrections Jail Inspector Delbert Longley all met with the Jones County Supervisors on Jan. 15 during their regular board meeting to discuss the issues as Longley sees them.

     “This is the first time I have seen a jail inspection report address jail staffing levels,” said Graver.

     Longley said his concerns stem from maintaining a safe environment in the jail.

     “My concerns are for the safety of the facility, the safety of the public, the safety of the staff and the safety of the prisoners,” he said.

     Longley said there are measures in place regarding jail safety meant to keep government agencies like Jones County from falling victim to a lawsuit.

     “You should have adequate number of staff at any given time to respond to promptly in case of an emergency,” he continued.

     With the design of the Jones County Jail, to no fault of the current county officials, Longley said it’s very staff intensive. If there were an issue in one area of the jail, he said how much time would it take staff to respond in case of an emergency?

     “I suggest you conduct a staff analysis,” Longley said. “It’ll tell you what you need and what’s feasible for you (in terms of staffing). I don’t want to see anyone get hurt because you didn’t have adequate staff.”

     Longtime Jail Administrator Mike Elkin has retired, leaving LeMense to take over those duties.

     Graver said in the past, they have discussed adding another full-time staff member to the jail roster, but didn’t see the urgency as it stands now. “I didn’t see this coming,” he admitted.

     On average, the Jones County Jail averages about 15 inmates. Graver and LeMense said the inmates seem to be more violent than years past.

     “The fights are getting a lot worse,” Graver said. “And I don’t see the numbers getting better with what we see on the street. We’re a rural county with urban problems. I don’t see this changing.”

     Graver said from his perspective, the jail has the best staff coverage he’s seen since becoming Sheriff. He told the supervisors that it’s hard finding employees who are qualified and who want to work nights, weekends, and holidays.

     “We can double staff 24/7, but that’s going to be pretty costly,” he warned. “I don’t have anything in my budget for additional manpower for the jail.” (The county is in the midst of meeting with department heads and reviewing budget proposals.) “One full-time (position) would be better, but not necessarily meet the recommendation of the state,” Graver continued. “You’ll have increased costs with insurance and salary.”

     On the flip side, the next time the jail is inspected, the question will be, “What have you done to alleviate (the issue)?”

     County Attorney Kristofer Lyons said his gut instinct is telling him the county needs to act in some way with the information everyone has been given. “You’re on notice now,” he said. “I’m not sure of the solution, but it needs to be looked at.”

     He said if nothing is done, the county should have sound reasons for not taking action.

     “In the past three years, I’ve seen inefficiencies in the jail,” Lyons continued, referring to his time as assistant county attorney. “The report is showing a real problem.”

     Lyons recommended a staff analysis as the first step.

     Longley advised there are consulting groups that could assist the county in this endeavor. He advised the county put together a five- and 10-year plan for the future of the jail and how they expect to operate the facility.

     “Another avenue, if you’re looking at a new facility a consultant with the architecture firm could also do the staff analysis for you,” offered Longley.

     Shive-Hattery out of Cedar Rapids recently conducted an overall review of the courthouse facilities. Graver said he would contact them before anything else.

     Lyons added that a situation like this is nothing unique to Jones County, with other counties reviewing their jail facilities.



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