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County ‘working feverishly’ on jail fixes

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NASHVILLE — The Nash County Detention Center is making steady improvement in both its maintenance and operations, Nash County commissioners were told Monday, but some major repairs and operational changes are awaiting recommendations by a consulting firm on long-term structural changes to the aging facility.

County engineer Jonathan Boone and Maj. Miste Strickland of the Nash County Sheriff’s Office each gave lengthy reports during the board’s monthly meeting that showed significant progress since the jail failed a state inspection in December and was ordered to reduce its population from 219 to 56 and bring the facility into compliance.

“We have made a great deal of progress at the detention facility,” Boone said, praising the maintenance staff and the sheriff’s office’s cooperation. He said compliance issues related to maintenance have been addressed or are under repair, and lingering issues have been put on hold pending expected recommendations from the Mosley Group consultants later this month.

“We are moving at a quick pace,” Boone said. “We are working feverishly so we can bring our inmates back to Nash County.”

Improvements have allowed Sheriff Keith Stone to increase the jail population to 82, with another 114 inmates still housed in jails outside the county. Board Chairman Robbie Davis said the county is now allowed to bring back as many as 150-160 inmates.

“We have not worked on the old part of the jail yet,” he said. “We have decided we would get the Mosley report back to see what they recommend.”

He praised the maintenance staffers for their “amazing job” and led the board in giving them a round of applause.

For its part, the sheriff’s office also gave commissioners good news on the jail’s operation as well as recommendations for future staffing changes.

Strickland, who is currently responsible for the detention center’s operation, said the jail staff now has only 10 vacancies.

“We’ve really improved with the hiring process,” she said.

Besides regular training, she said, the sheriff’s office has added specialized training related to the detention center for current and all new officers. She said she could not be more specific in public for security reasons, but invited commissioners to visit the facility and see for themselves while the inmate population is still low.

She said the department is working on requiring dual certification for all new officers.

“We want all new officers to become detention-certified,” she said. “New officers will work in the detention facility for a period of time and then become BLET (Basic Law Enforcement Training) certified.”

She said the sheriff’s office is working with Nash Community College to plan a night detention officer course. She said the office is also working on training for the implementation of an in-house psychiatric emergency response team.

Strickland said the sheriff’s office’s goal is eventually to have all detention staff join the rest of the staff in becoming Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies-certified.

Since January, she said, “We have had two well-respected agencies come and do an unbiased, internal review without any input from the command staff. They had access to the full facility as well as all policies and procedures.”

The office has also improved the booking and intake areas for safer processing and redesigned its supervision organizational chart to combine detention transports and mental health transports for “better compliance” with a new state mandate.

The big supervisory change the sheriff’s office is proposing, Strickland told commissioners, is to make the detention center its own operational division, led by a major solely dedicated to the facility. The proposal would require adding a major, administrative lieutenant and three transport officers to the current staff, she said. The staffing changes will be requested during this year’s budget process and no figures were yet available.

“Mental health transports have increased and are putting a huge strain on patrol operations,” she said.

Strickland added that the department has not had an increase in command staff for the detention facility and supervisors are “overtasked.” She said the current jail design requires more staff than newer facilities, “so this is causing a continuous strain on all levels.”

Strickland said the west side of the jail, the older section, will remain closed. She said the jail still needs more lockdown pods and “more secure areas so we can classify inmates.” These are issues expected to be addressed in the Mosley report.

She stressed that safety and security of the detention center is the sheriff’s responsibility and insisted that “until the sheriff feels the facility is a more safe environment for his employees as well as the community and the inmates, the number of inmates being housed will continue to be at a reduced number.”

The sheriff, she told commissioners, “will determine the maximum amount of inmates we will house and what sections of the facility we will utilize. All this is dependent upon safety concerns and the current facility design as well as facility maintenance issues.”

At the same time, she added in a more conciliatory tone, “It is our hope to work with each of you to do what is best for the county, whether that is to build a new facility or remodel this current facility while addressing all of our current safety needs. We want to be good stewards of the county money.”

The sheriff office’s goal is to keep everyone involved safe and to “build or remodel a facility that is state and federally compliant and one that will meet standards for future growth,” she said.

“We want to have a facility that Nash County can be proud of,” she concluded.