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County shifts attention toward funding of jail

As the Marengo County Commission considers its fiscal 2004 budget in a work session September 25, the funding of the county jail will be one of its responsibilities.

The total 2003 budget for jail operations was $523,632.12.

The staff includes jail administrator Kevin McKinney and 13 officers. "We don’t have any extra folks over here," McKinney said. Unfortunately, the county does not fund the mandatory 158 hours of training for the jail officers.

That training is paid by the 25 percent of gross pay earned by work release inmates, McKinney said.

An increase in maintenance will be sought in the 2004 budget. One door in the jail has a broken lock, he said, and they don’t have the money to fix it.

Costs for inmate supplies including cleaning products, mattresses and toilet supplies also needs to be increased.

The prisoners bide their time at the county jail watching television and talking on the phone. They are allowed two soft cover books and a Bible.

McKinney considers television as "a control tool. You’ve got inmates in jail what else are you going to do to them?" They get to acting up, then about two days without television and it gets as quiet as church, he said.

Access to attorneys is unlimited, "along as it doesn’t interfere with our operations here."

Politicians often like to say inmates are treated too nice with privileges such as television. "Everyone of those people (in jail) has a momma and a daddy. I’ve not had a parent yet call me when their child is arrested and say ‘treat them (severely). I don’t want you to do a damn thing for them.’

Many people have never had a love one incarcerated, and they don’t understand what they’re going through.

Families are allowed to visit male inmates on Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 3 p.m. and female inmates Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 1 to 3 p.m.

There used to be problems with fighting in the Marengo County Jail, before McKinney took over as administrator in 2000. "I had an inmate tell me one time ‘it used to be the Wild Wild West.’" But, they don’t have that problem any more. The reason is the professionalism of his staff and communication with the inmates, he said.

Inmates can often be frustrated by their situation, and the officers try to communicate with them the details of the corrections and court system.

If a rule is broken, a report is made, and the inmate is told how long they will be in isolation, McKinney said. He inmate understands what caused the punishment.

Each inmate receives a handbook describing their privileges.

Medical care is expensive, McKinney said. The inmates are given prepackaged medicine with their name and the time it is to be given on the individual package. McKinney himself keeps up with the medicine.

Inmates are transferred to the Marengo Family Health Center in Linden when needed.

The inmate also must fill out a medical form. McKinney evaluates who needs to go to the doctor. "When I started we were budgeted $40,000 a year for medicine," he said. "The first year we were here we saved $10,000, and the county commission cut that $10,000 out of our budget. This year we had $30,000 budgeted, and our report for August showed us under budget. That’s the first time that I know of that we’ve been under budget."

However, McKinney will need that $30,000 for medical expenses in the fiscal 2004 budget. "We’ve just been lucky. We’ve managed what we can manage."

They get every kind of complaint from inmates. "The officers have really stepped up….We started learning about folks….You know when that inmate pushes that button and says I’ve got a migraine headache and then he goes out and starts playing basketball," he’s fooling around.

If McKinney gets a request for medical service from an inmate, he can get an honest observation from his officers regarding the condition of the inmate.

There is not standard time that inmates stay in the county jail. One inmate, Faunsdale murder suspect Annette Miller, stayed in the jail over three years, he said.

Another inmate from Sumter County had been in the jail off-and-on since December 1999.