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Let's talk about the real jail issues

What a strange turn of events Thursday for Marion County Commission.

The state fire marshal had been requiring a 24-hour fire watch in the county jail and was threatening to fine the county for being in violation for housing more than four inmates. And then, the fire marshal said, “Oops, we made a mistake. Never mind.”

We’re thankful personnel in the fire marshal’s office finally understood their own regulations.

Even with the increase of allowing 16 inmates, there were instances this summer when the jail had more than even the higher allotment.

The real issues aren’t whether the fire marshal was right or wrong.

Some may think it doesn’t matter if inmates sleep on a mattress on the floor. They’ve broken the law. Let them sleep on the floor. Who cares?

We should care because when a person enters the jail, that person becomes the responsibility of the county. It doesn’t matter what the person has done to land there; the county still is responsible for his or her safety.

What about the narrow catwalk around the cells that put personnel within arm’s reach of inmates?

These are the real issues.

We know there are no quick fixes. It is quite obvious that any fix is taking longer than anyone would like. It’s already been five years since this all started.

Ideas have been shot down.

Some people don’t want to spend tax dollars to build a jail. Well, it doesn’t matter if we do or not. A long-term resolution has to be found.

Will it be another five years before it’s resolved? Let’s hope not.

The county has four major issues that need to be addressed.

First, a policy needs to be in place for times when the inmate population exceeds 16.

Second, an appropriate jail size needs to be determined. What size does it need to be? Will it pay for itself and the sheriff’s department or will it be an additional expense, possibly causing our taxes to increase?

Third, the county must decided how to pay for a new jail. Property tax increase? Probably.

Finally, a location must be chosen for the jail. Near the courthouse makes the most sense, but at what price?

Transporting all prisoners to one or various facilities should not be considered because if inmates are shipped out, will law enforcement think twice about arresting someone? And, if they did, who could blame them? Is it worth making multiple trips for someone who committed a minor offense? Probably not. Our deputies and police officers already have the awesome task of keeping the peace. Let’s not burden them with more ethical issues.

County residents may have an opportunity to vote again regarding a new jail on the April ballot. We must make an informed decision — one that will resolve this issue once and for all.

Instead of criticizing those who are trying to make decisions, offer assistance and support. Let’s not drag this out any longer.

— susan berg

Last modified Sept. 29, 2010

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