The huge numbers of people awaiting trial for drug charges are causing severe overcrowding in the Logan County Detention Center.
The problem is not unique to Logan County. The constant arrest of those dealing in methamphetamine along with a backlog of cases in the state crime labs has left many inmates in the secured areas of the jail sleeping on mats while waiting months for a trial.
According to Bill Jenkins, jailer in charge of the Logan County Detention Center, a jail that was built with a capacity of 124 in mind is now bulging at the seams with over 160 inmates. He doesn't see a positive solution over the horizon, as more and more people are arrested every day in the production or use of methamphetamine.
Over 90 percent of those housed in the secure area of the jail are awaiting a trial based on charges of something related to meth, whether it be possession of precursors or actual production of the drug.
For the past two months, the jail has stayed at between 150 and 160 inmates. The "secured area" of the jail is for those who, by law based on the charges, whether they be felony, repeat offenders, or parole violators, cannot be released for work detail. It is in this area that dormitories which are suited for 4 to 12 inmates are now packed with up to 15 in some cases. There are at least 70 to 80 awaiting court action for their charges.
Any case involving drugs must have the evidence sent to the state crime lab for analysis. The chemist or lab technician tests the evidence and confirms or denies its authenticity. Then the technician or chemist must be able to come to court and testify that indeed, this substance was meth, or not. This process of analysis can take up to 10 months in some cases.
Jenkins said that most of their drug cases are sent to the Madisonville crime lab. There are only a certain number of State Crime Labs and the county is not allowed to use a private lab. This keeps labs like Madisonville's backlogged with case after case of mostly drug evidence. For a chemist or lab technician who doesn't make that much money in this state, they don't see the light at the end of the tunnel. It is like the post office, with no end to the work.
For this reason, employee turnover is extremely high in state crime labs. It takes a number of months to train new employees. And when a rape case or murder case comes in, it takes precedence, leaving the other drug cases to be put on the back burner.
In 1996, Jenkins said, the jail had 27 inmates. The plans for the new jail were based on these numbers, the engineers planning for over three times that number. By the time the jail was finished in 2000 and the meth epidemic was beginning to overwhelm the county, the number was almost at 90 inmates.
"The loser out of all this is me," said Jenkins. The number of inmates causes food costs to rise and rampant behavior problems. Imagine a room built with around eight people, stuffed with 15 people who don't know each other. There are language barriers, as well. The floors are covered with mats for them to sleep on.
Jenkins said of being a guard at the jail, "This is one of the worst jobs in the county." He spoke of the amount of stress his staff must endure with constant behavior problems among inmates. "The guards have wives and family, just like the rest of us," said Jenkins.
Another problem not often thought of with an overcrowded jail is the spread of communicable diseases. This leaves employees worried constantly about not only the threat to physical harm through riot, but threats to their health and, therefore, the health of their family.
In this jail, there have been the scare of Hepatitis C, HIV, meningitis, and a few with full blown AIDS. Tuberculosis is also a scary disease in an over-packed facility.
"Introduce a communicable disease in overcrowded spaces, it is not long before the whole population's got it," said Jenkins.
Jenkins said that he has had few complaints about the amount of money it takes to keep the jail running. People expect that when someone commits a crime, that they go to jail. "We have two tough judges that represent this concern people have," said Jenkins. If someone violates parole or repeatedly gets arrested for drugs, they have no choice but to put them in jail.
If offenders were constantly given second and third chances and released on parole, public safety and all feeling of trust in the justice system would be questioned by the public.
Jenkins predicts a number around 200 further on this year. He doesn't know of a clear solution. "Add 50 beds, and you pay food costs and increased costs for those 50 beds," said Jenkins. And still, there would be progressively too many people in the jail.