Tight quarters. Larger population. Rising tensions.
Some would say that's a recipe for disaster, and those issues at the McCracken County Jail that have led to a steady increase in assaults.
Violence has steadily been on the rise, said McCracken Jailer Bill Adams, resulting in more inmate-on-jailer and inmate-on-inmate assaults.
"The possibility of violence is daily," he said. "Most people don't realize that because our jobs are hidden behind these walls."
Earlier this summer, Adams said, an inmate fashioned a weapon out of a pen and used it to stab one of the deputy jailers in the face. The jailer wasn't critically injured but could have been.
"If he had been stabbed another eighth or 16th of an inch over, the pen would have been in the (deputy's) eyeball," Adams said.
That was not a random attack, Adams said, it was planned.
"The inmate knew exactly what he was doing," he said. "He was was trying to lure deputies into the pod so he could attack them."
The deputy was treated for his injuries and has since returned to work, Adams said. The inmate was charged with assault.
Data from the jail shows there were 12 inmate-on-jailer attacks in 2013. That number dropped to five in 2014 and then tripled in 2015 to 15. So far this year, there have been 11 assaults on deputy jailers, including the stabbing incident.
"That severe of an attack is not typical, but the possibility of that is daily," Adams said.
As for inmate-on-inmate assaults, there were 44 in 2013. That number rose to 51 the following year and again to 62 in 2015. This year, the number of inmate-on-inmate attacks has already exceeded the previous years with 83 assaults thus far.
Adams attributed the rise in violence to a variety of factors, including overpopulation and a larger number of younger inmates.
At the end of July the jail was about 35 inmates over capacity, Adams said. Although populations fluctuate daily as inmates are released and new arrests are made, Adams said this year the jail has consistently been about 45 inmates over capacity.
The fact that the population is getting younger also hasn't helped to curb the violence, he said.
"When I came to work here 20-plus years ago, we had a different clientele, so to speak. The inmates were older, a little more laid back and times were different," he said.
At that time the majority of the inmates were locked up for public intoxication, drugs, domestic altercations or petty crimes, Adams said.
"Now, the inmate population is younger and the crimes are getting more violent. The attitude is different, too," he continued.
Today's inmates are more indignant and combative he said, showing little respect for each other or the jailers.
A majority of the violence among inmates Adams said is minor, much of it stemming from rivalries on the outside. But there is the occasional fistfight over commissary, gambling and the like.
However, the jail has also seen its share of serious fights.
"There are more serious incidents where an inmate is jumped by two or three other inmates," he said. "We'll have probably 10 or 12 incidents a year where they really have a knock-down, drag-out fight and someone has to go to the hospital."
As for violence against the jailers, Adams said deputies are most likely to get hurt when intervening in an inmate dispute. Other times, inmates will fake a medical emergency or create some other type of problem to lure the deputy into the pod so they can jump him.
The jail has several systems in place to try to prevent violence and protect the deputies, Adams said, one of which is the inmate classification system.
Upon arrival, each inmate undergoes a complete background and history check. When choosing where to place an inmate, criminal histories, possible flight risks, likeliness to re-offend, mental status and personal relationships are all taken into account. Inmates also are given the chance to list people they do not get along with and therefore can't be housed with, Adams said.
To help the guards, Adams said the inmates wear color-coded jumpers, which indicate their classification. That way, the deputies know on sight what sort of restraints need to be used and who is a risk to their safety.
Even with the current precautions in place, Adams said deputies could benefit from more extensive training.
"There should be some form of academy training done just like the sheriff's department or the state police have," he said. "Does it need to be a 16-week academy like theirs? No, it doesn't. But there needs to be a two or three-week basic academy where the deputies go to receive the same training across the board."
Right now he said the deputies receive some training before they go to work in the jail and the rest is on-the-job training, which can pose a risk. More opportunities for specialized training and seminars would also be beneficial, he said.
"If the state invested in academy training, I think it would greatly reduce the risk to deputies, as well as boost their morale."
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