County jail concern

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Pastor voices complaints before Co. Commission

By Cassandra Mickens

The Selma Times-Journal

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When Betty Jemison stood before the Dallas County Commission Monday afternoon, she had a lot to get off her chest.

Standing alongside her husband, Jemison, pastor of Selma’s Faith Tabernacle Christian Center, spoke of problems plaguing the Dallas County Jail – rodents, cleanliness and medical care to name a few.

Jemison travels to the jail bi-weekly to counsel inmates, conversing with females on Thursdays and males on Fridays. During one of her visits, Jemison observed rats and roaches in the waiting area and “that should not be,” she said.

As a result of the pests, Jemison said two female inmates were bitten by spiders and were transported to the hospital. The inmates threatened to sue the county, but Jemison convinced them otherwise.

Jemison said she doesn’t know who’s in charge of regularly exterminating the jail, but offered a suggestion to the commission.

“We need to get another extermination company because they’re not on their job,” she said.

Jemison went on to speak of the jail’s sanitary conditions, citing fungus buildup in the inmate showers, the discovery of a “big roach” in an inmate’s meal and dirty laundry. She fears if the jail is unkempt, inmates who are released have a high potential of spreading contagious diseases throughout the community. Although the people who inhabit the jail have committed a crime, that doesn’t mean they receive less than humane treatment in Jemison’s view.

“They are human, even though they’ve done wrong,” she said.

Jemison also said inmates have accused jail employees of stealing prescription medicine subscribed to them because “they run out too soon” and later revealed she had to pay for the tooth extraction of an inmate because the county failed to acknowledge the inmate’s ailment.

While she carried a bag of documentation listing a few of her complaints, Jemison admitted she is not sure whether all the stories inmates have told her are fact.

“(The inmates) don’t always tell the truth. I know that,” she said.

Lastly, Jemison lobbied for some form of rehabilitation for the inmates, stating 90 percent of inmates in the jail do not have a GED or any job skills and resort to dealing drugs inside and outside the jail cell.

“This is a burden the Lord has put on our shoulders,” Jemison concluded.

The commission allowed Dallas County Sheriff Harris Huffman Jr. to respond to Jemison’s statements. In the past two years, the county jail has undergone a $1 million renovation of its air conditioning systems, its showers and its kitchen. Huffman said inmates were transported to another area within the jail in order to fumigate the entire facility.

“A lot of these problems have been taken care of months ago,” Huffman said.

As far as the complaints concerning food and sanitary conditions, Huffman said the jail “is the cleanest it’s been in 10 years.”

The jail is thoroughly inspected by both county and state officials three times a year and clearly indicated neither entity has noted a problem.

Huffman also revealed the sheriff’s department is partnering with Wallace Community College Selma to start a GED program at the jail. A classroom is currently being renovated at the jail, which will house 10 computers.

Jemison and Huffman have scheduled a time to further discuss the complaints at a later date.

In other business:

The commission approved a resolution to place four ad valorem school taxes up for renewal on an Aug. 29 special election ballot. Attorneys representing the Dallas County and Selma City School Systems addressed the commission, saying the taxes have been on the books since 1977 and will expire on September 9, 2007.

“Without it, the school system will shut down, the county might too,” said Probate Judge Johnny Jones.

Jones announced the results of the county amendment concerning self-governance in unincorporated areas on the June 6 primary election ballot. Voters approved the amendment 3,335 votes to 987 votes.

Commissioner Connell Towns requested the commission to extend the July 4 holiday to two days – Monday, July 3 and Tuesday, July 4. The commission approved the request.

The commission approved budget amendments for the month of May.

The commission approved an award contract for inmate telephone service at the county jail.

The commission discussed payments due to the county from the City of Selma. According to county documents, the city owes the county $181.71 for medicine for city jail inmates, $1691.82 for repairs made to emergency sirens within the city limits and an estimated $1,170 for the NCIC terminal at the E-911 building.

The commission rejected bids for paving and draining improvements under the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) project.

The commission approved to award a construction contract in the amount of $333,016 to Tri-County Construction, LLC to extend water service to the Wagon Wheel Community under a CDBG grant.

The commission approved invoices for services rendered under a CDBG grant to the Wagon Wheel Community.

The commission approved mowing services for watershed structure improvements.

The commission approved a resolution

to limit speeds at construction zones.