Letter to the editor: Franklin County Jail needs improvements

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Critical infrastructure improvements are needed at Franklin County Jail.

The Board of Visitors is an oversight and advisory committee of citizens identified by the sheriff to represent the interests of the people in Franklin County. The BOV members are chosen for their varied orientations, interests and expertise in the field of corrections and rehabilitation issues. We currently include a physician/counselor, a defense attorney, a retired member of law enforcement/educator, a reentry/rehabilitation coach with lived experience and an educator/criminal justice advocate. The BOV in this capacity regards public safety and security, jail safety, as well as inmate health and safety.

The BOV is allowed access to the facility “at will” (barring circumstances like the Covid pandemic). The BOV is also allowed to observe the operations of the jail, communicate with staff and inmates and otherwise evaluate the facility for systemic problems. Previous to the epidemic, members of the BOV visited the jail on a monthly basis, conversing with staff and residents and observing the physical facility.

As a result of those visits the Franklin County Board of Visitors submitted its annual report in August of 2020. The findings document major infrastructure needs as well as recommendations for staffing, programming and services. The full report is available on the Franklin County Sheriff Department website and includes the Sheriff’s Departments response.

Of critical concern are:

1. Obsolete control room switching panel and door lock systems need upgrading. The cost of replacement is likely to be $200,000 or more. Replacement parts are no longer made. The system is hobbling along due to staff efforts to keep it cobbled together. The longer we put off this essential purchase the more it will cost to do so.

2.High staff turnover due to a salary compensation scale that is not competitive. Corrections is a high stress job, requires de-escalation skills, and a willingness to work nights and/or weekends. It should be compensated at a rate that recognizes the demands of the job and incentivizes a long term commitment to the position.

3.Additional concerns include improved medical facilities and re-entry supports and services for inmates.

A state cap on increases to the jail budget has limited expenditures and has barely kept up with inflation. However, that cap does not relieve the county of its responsibility to provide a safe environment for residents and staff of the Franklin County correctional facility. We urge the County Finance Committee and County Commissioners to fund these urgent safety needs.

Thank you,
Jan M. Collins janmariecollins57@gmail.com
Ellen Grunblatt, chairperson emgrunblatt@gmail.com
Jeff Kerr JeffreyKerr2020@gmail.com
Ashley Perry ashley@sandershanstein.com
Richard Lumb rclumb@gmail.com

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