The sheriff’s office has begun a new initiative to reduce contraband in the county jail.
Until recently, an access road ran from the county shooting range behind the animal shelter to the jail providing easy access to the inmates’ exercise yard. Sheriff A.J. Smith said that road has now been blocked with a pile of earth, and a second fence will soon be constructed around the entire sheriff’s compound, blocking easy access to the jail.
Smith said this will provide a safer environment for employees, especially at shift change. “This way, someone angry can’t wait for an employee to exit the building,” he said.
To save money, the sheriff’s office requested permission Tuesday morning to repurpose some of the chain link fence from the old Bay City Work Camp west of Apalachicola on US 98. He said he planned to use inmate labor to construct the new barricade. Smith said the county can save about $80,000 by moving the used fence.
County commissioners expressed concern about the liability associated with moving the fence, in particular the exposure of razor wire along the ground. They also questioned whether inmates had the skills to handle razor wire and fencing.
Commissioner Smokey Parrish said that removal of the outer fence, which has razor wire on top of it, could expose the public to razor wire on the ground surrounding an interior fence.
The sheriff said that in a further effort to crack down on contraband, he will provide advanced training in detection for deputies. He said he also plans to increase checks in the dormitories, and monitor activity outside the existing fence more closely until a new enclosure is in place.
He said the department is also acquiring an additional trained dog for use at the jail.
Smith said a 4:30 a.m. raid June 8 in the dorms, as well as officers patrolling outside of the exercise area, yielded a large amount of recently confiscated contraband. He said lawbreakers use several techniques to provide inmates with forbidden materials.
Materials could be smuggled in, hidden on the person of a visitor or even by an employee. Smith said two employees recently passed a lie detector test after an anonymous tip implicated jailhouse staff.
Small products might be simply crammed inside a tennis ball and tossed over the fence to a recipient, he said. Larger packages could be hidden outside the fence or at more distant locations for retrieval by a trustee on work duty.
A veritable grocery list of materials was confiscated in recent jailhouse raids including methamphetamine, marijuana, oxycodone, cigarettes, snuff and cocaine, all snagged from a trash can before delivery inside the jail.
Several cell phones and tobacco products have been found inside in recent weeks. Two inmates, Lataska Harris and Fred Cargill, are facing charges for possession of the cell phones.
Smith said Joseph Brandon Stevens and April Hutchinson were arrested in connection with recently confiscated contraband. He said Stevens, a trustee at the jail, was supposed to pick up and smuggle inside the pills, marijuana, cocaine and cigarettes that Hutchinson dropped off in a garbage can behind the jail.