BY MELANIE BUCK
Sterling Penix, the Governor’s Appointee Over Jail Standards and the Jail Standards Committee for Polk County spoke with Sheriff Mike Godfrey, Chief Deputy Scott Sawyer, and Jail Administrator Vicky Hendrix on Monday, October 26, to present a listing of items where the Polk County Detention Center is out of compliance and set a date on when a plan of action is due in order to keep the doors open on the current jail facilities.
April 26, 2106 is the six-month mark from this week’s meeting date and Penix said that’s when a plan of action needs to be presented by the County. The official plan of action should include any bids, funding sources, etc., needed to bring the jail up to current standards. If no plan is given, the jail could be shut down quickly, however, Sheriff Godfrey said, “I assure you there will be a plan in place before April.”
Penix explained that after the plan is presented, he and the Jail Standards Committee will review it and decide whether the plan fits into the standards or not and whether the County should continue in that venture. Penix assured Godfrey that once the plan is presented, he will allow ample time for construction or remodeling to take place. “We are here to help the County. These are challenging moments; you don’t get here overnight. It was a gradual process that got us here and it will take a gradual process to get us back on line,” said Penix.
The list of non-compliant items as outlined in the official Criminal Detention Facilities Review are as follows: no visitation policy; no outdoor exercise area; no cell to house disabled persons; does not have two exit ways out of the housing area; no proper activities area; no designated space for indoor/outdoor exercise; does not have adequate space for storage and cleaning supplies; no adequate space for administrative or staff functions; no adequate space in the kitchen to provide meals for the jail.
Also noted in the report were the following items: Polk County jail has outgrown current 26-bed facility; door going into the secured area of the jail is too small to take an ambulance stretcher through; air vent in need of repair in male population area; jail in need of a second SCBA. It was also noted that the Committee feels that the Polk County jail is too small for the needs of the County.
“We have a partial plan. But even if we fix everything else, it doesn’t fix our biggest problem which is we can’t hold more than 25 people,” said Godfrey. Not only is the jail non-compliant in several areas with jail standards, the State Fire Marshall is also demanding upgrades, including pull-tab fire alarms in cells and an Ansul system in the kitchen.
Penix had encouraged the County to ‘think outside the box’ and “that’s just what we’ve done,” said Godfrey. Godfrey and Sawyer believe they may have found a way to bring the kitchen into compliance in an ‘outside the box’ kind of way via a food trailer that is complete with an Ansul system and commercial appliances in place that will allow for better and safer equipment to cook on than the current four-burner cookstove. “It’s not easy making 9,000 meals a year on a four-burner,” said Sawyer. He added, “I’ve seen other jails have food trailers and they work, it’s a possibility.”
Godfrey and Sawyer pointed out that some citizens are concerned that if money is spent bringing the jail up to standards, that the standards will change again, costing more money every few years. Although Penix cannot guarantee that standards won’t change again soon, he pointed out that until December 2014, the standards hadn’t changed in almost 30 years.
Sheriff Godfrey was set to report to the Polk County Quorum Court on Tuesday night to relay what Penix presented on Monday. It will be up to the Quorum Court whether the County decides to renovate the current facilities or not.
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