Jail Board agrees on further restraints for inmates during the booking process

BROOKVILLE — The killing of a corrections officer in Crawford County two months ago prompted the Jefferson County Jail Board to approve a change in policy Monday.

According to Jefferson County Warden Tom Elbel, the Crawford County officer was killed while booking an incoming prisoner, who was unrestrained and attacked the officer without the use of a weapon.

To avoid such a disaster, Elbel and the jail board moved to install bull rings, to which the prisoner will be fastened during booking.

A change in policy Monday made it mandatory for the bull rings to be used.

“We will always have some officers who think they can handle any prisoners without any restraints,” Elbel said. “We have to put it in writing to make it mandatory.”

Now, incoming prisoners will enter the jail through the garage and be led to the booking area while in restraints. Then, the corrections officer will uncuff one hand and immediately fasten that hand to the bull ring mounted on the wall.

“The problem in Crawford County was that he was unrestrained and was left free to do whatever he wanted,” Elbel said. “Now, (an inmate) will be handcuffed throughout the booking process.”

Crawford County did have a surveillance camera in place, but other corrections officers were not able to arrive in time to intervene and prevent the death. Jefferson County does not even have a camera, Elbel said.

Board member Paul Corbin asked if it were possible to install a camera, and Elbel said the information-technology department was looking into it.

“We have to watch privacy laws, though,” Elbel said. “We have to strip-search incoming prisoners, but that cannot be on camera. You have to have some areas where there is not a camera.”

Corbin also questioned the staffing in the booking room.

According to Elbel, only one officer is in the booking room for most of the process, which takes about an hour. Another officer is called in during the strip-search. That officer is only needed for about five minutes, and then goes about regular duties.

Corbin asked if two officers could be present throughout the booking procedure.

“If we get six or seven inmates, then we would tie up an officer for six or seven hours,” Elbel said. “If we bring in another officer for eight hours during the day, then maybe we wouldn’t have any incoming prisoners all day, and those eight hours would be wasted.”

The jail has a greater likelihood of experiencing a day when five or more prisoners are booked because of an exchange agreement with McKean County.

Currently, the jail is housing five prisoners from McKean County, and it is receiving $55 per prisoner, per day to do so.

The number of McKean County prisoners housed is Jefferson County fluctuates, depending on the population in McKean County’s jail. Three weeks ago, for instance, there were seven transferred prisoners.

Last week, there were only two, and Monday, there were five. Each prisoner has to be booked the same as a prisoner coming to the jail for the first time.

In other business:

• The board approved the restrictive intermediate punishment and alcohol program reports and the intermediate punishment reports.

• The board approved the financial report and the jail report as presented.

• The next meeting of the Jefferson County Jail Board will be held at noon Jan. 24, 2011, at Jefferson Place.