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Posted: April 12, 2011 7:29 p.m.

Jail stressful on inmates and employees

Photos by Gabriel Khouli/

Most days Fate Reed never turns his back. He keeps the same, alert, 180-degree view of his surroundings: metal tables, small rectangular windows and brown jumpsuits.

Reed is very much alone, and a moment of inattentiveness could provide an inmate at the Newton County Detention Center with an opportunity to attack. As the hours tick by, sometimes as many as 16 in one day, day after day, the strain increases.

Reed knows he's alone; the inmates do, too.

Assaults on detention deputies increased from nine in 2009 to 14 in 2010, according to the Newton County Sheriff's Office 2010 annual report. Sheriff Ezell Brown recently told the Newton County Board of Commissioners that they're on pace to increase again in 2011.

He wants $1.26 million more for the jail, for a total of $9.47 million, to operate more safely the 650-bed facility.

In many ways, the jail is a world of its own, with a kitchen, basketball courts, medical facility and hundreds of housing units, and life there is filled with a series of Catch-22s.

The small number of detention deputies forces the jail to operate on lockdown status most days, meaning only a few inmates are allowed out of their cells at any time. While the ratios are smaller, the inmates tend to be in a worse mood and more aggressive because they're locked up for such long periods of time.

Budget cuts have reduced the number of detention deputies to 62, which allow for about 10 to 11 per 12-hour shift. That's 10 to 11 deputies, plus a few supervising personnel, supervising 619 inmates as of Monday.

According to the Georgia Sheriff's Association, in an ideal world, a facility of that size should have 173 detention officers. Capt. Sammy Banks, who oversees jail operations, would like to add 10 detention officers next year to at least allow him to increase the number of deputies per shift to 14.

Normally, one detention deputy would oversee an individual jail pod, which can house 72 inmates, and another deputy would roam the halls to be able to respond quickly wherever needed. The jail is operating without these "floating" officers. When a fight breaks out, it takes officers in other parts of the building a few extra minutes to respond.

Assaults are just one factor contributing to the strain on detention employees. The lack of officers means employees are called on to work longer shifts, as many as 16 hours in one day, and often several days in any given week, as opposed to the normal schedule of a few days on and a few days off.

Strain on workers leads to increased sick leave and increased worker's compensation claims.

The jail costs a lot to run: Georgia law requires that inmates have access to health care, healthy food and recreational activities.

If the jail was to cut back on food, not only could inmates be less healthy, but they'd also be likely to be aggressive, said Banks.

"Our priorities are safety and security," Banks said. "I have to take care of my employees."

In addition, improper treatment can lead to lawsuits filed by inmates or their families. A single successful lawsuit could bankrupt the county, Banks said.

"We're thinking about the taxpayer all the time," he said.
It's true that working in a jail is not for everyone, but the increasingly difficult working conditions have made it even harder to recruit and retain detention deputies, Banks said.

While the jail gets publicity and attention, Banks and Sheriff Brown said the law enforcement and jail sides are equally important. Without law enforcement criminals can't be caught and without the jail they can't remain locked up.

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