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Jail house rock solid in Shelby

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Inmate numbers high; staff coping well

By Lisa King

Staff photo by Lisa King

Lt. Tony Aldridge watches as Deputy Jailer Darrell Cox manns the board in the control room at the Shelby County Detention Center.

Jail house rock solid in Shelby

Inmate numbers high; staff coping well

By Lisa King/Sentinel-News staff writer

Is the Shelby County Jail  overcrowded?

Yes and no, according to jailer Bobby Waits.

“The reason numbers aren't going to show that it is, is because of early release programs that the state has done,” he said. “A lot of those are Class D felons are in our restrictive custody section, so those beds are not full, but in the secure beds, a lot of them are full.”

The way it works, he said, is that in some areas, only certain types of inmates can be housed.

“I have 52 females in restrictive custody," he said. "That would show my numbers way down, but I couldn't use those beds for anything else but that.

“I couldn't put any secure inmates in there, so I could be overcrowded in my secure part, yet it would show that I had empty beds.”

The local jail has a maximum capacity to house 312 inmates, or has 312 beds, in accordance with jail terminology. As far as the ratio of guards to inmates, that figure varies with the duty shift.

Fewer employees are needed in the evening, and usually average about six per night, Waits said. The day shift averages about nine guards, in addition to administrative personnel.

Lt. Tony Aldridge, who has been with the detention center for eight years, said the reason more guards are needed during the day is because the inmates are engaged in a myriad of activities that must all be supervised.

“This place is just like a small town all on its own,” he said. “We have people [inmates] attending class, going to health screenings, going to church, getting canteen deliveries, having visitors and going to the yard for exercise,” he said. “And that's just scratching the surface.”

Guards also have to transport inmates to and from court, to video arraignment, and sometimes to medical facilities. They also have a mountain of chores that included keeping inmates in clean uniforms, cleaning the cells, answering  the phones, booking new inmates in and releasing old ones, and manning the control room with its video surveillance screens.

“This is the hub of our whole operation,” Aldridge said, gesturing around him at the rooms many TV screens and monitors.

“This is where we keep track of what's going on everywhere in the jail and where we route all phone calls and visitors.”

How do only nine guards get the job done?

“Well, you just have to stay on top of things,” Aldridge said. “You may not have to be a rocket scientist, but you have to at least be a civil engineer,” he said with a chuckle.

Deputy Jailer Darrell Cox, seated at the control room's switchboard, agreed.

“We work 12-hour shifts, and it can get crazy, but it never gets boring," he said. " Just this morning we had a new employee who got her finger caught in the control room drawer. She didn't cry, though. Didn't even make a sound until it started bleeding.”

Waits said the Shelby County jail is typical of most county jails, which all have about the same ratio of guards to inmates.

“We're in pretty good shape here,” he said. “Right now I have eight empty beds in restrictive custody, and we are at about 270 beds right now.”

Because some surrounding counties do not have jails, the detention center also must house inmates from  Spencer and Henry counties, for example. There currently are 25 inmates from Spencer County and 140 state inmates being housed.

Waits, who was elected president of the Kentucky Jailers Association (KJA) for the third time, said the jail, which was built in 1997, was overcrowded until 180 beds were added last year.

“We fixed our problem,” he said. “We had 118 beds in our old jail and were were averaging 150 inmates. That's why we decided to do that.

"I did a study and looked at how our inmate population has been growing per year and figured that we were growing by about seven more inmates a year. So we developed a 20-year plan, so we feel like we are in pretty good shape for the next 10 years.”

Shelby County Judge Executive Rob Rothernburger said when it comes to cutting the cost of running the jail, Waits has done an excellent job in that regard.

"We're in very good shape," he said. "Somewhere around $350,000 was the only money that it was in deficit. That does not include the capitol improvement payment, which is the expansion of the jail, so we feel very fortunate that we get by with about $300,000 or $400,000 a year that we actually have to put in that, when you look at the expenditures versus the revenue. In some counties, it's tenfold on that."

He added that Waits works hard to keep expenses down at the jail so that county doesn't have to take up the slack.

"Each and every year, Bobby comes up with a suggestion or a vision where it [the jail] supports itself. That's his ultimate goal, to get it to support itself."

Cutting costs are important to Waits, and reducing the inmate population helps in that regard.

Recently, he has talked to local judges about ways the jail can reduce its illegal immigrant population. He explained that if an immigrant convicted of a crime is found to be in the country illegally, then the Immigrations and Enforcement Agency will put a “detainer” on the inmate, meaning they are slated for deportation after they have served their time. His suggestion to local judges was that if an immigrant is to be deported, they should just go ahead and deport him or her right away, before any time is served locally.

“If they give them to us with 30 or 60 days to serve, why do we want to keep them for 30 days and then deport them?" he asked. "Why don't we go ahead and deport them, so we could save that expense? I mean, it makes no sense to keep them; just go ahead and deport them if that's what you're going to do.”

He is awaiting the judges' decision on his suggestion.