Opinion

Kyle Troutman: Support for jail, Sheriff’s Office needed

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

There was a shake-up in the Barry County jail last week, and in the aftermath was a wake of complaints about the facility’s operation and abilities.

For many years now, it has been common knowledge that the jail facility in downtown Cassville has needed to change. I have known of a number of issues with the building, but former Sgt. Walter Burrows II alerted me to more than I had thought.

He and Katie Baker, jail administrator, had both put in two-week notices and both left their posts early due to a laundry list of safety and staffing issues at the jail.

Burrows complaints included things like some jail doors not locking properly, a persistence of black mold in the facility, the lack of an ability to provide proper medical care to inmates and understaffing that makes daily tasks difficult to complete.

I took Mr. Burrows’ call and jotted down his complaints, then called Danny Boyd, Barry County sheriff, to get his take on the situation. In short, he said yes, there are all those issues and more.

Boyd is the third sheriff I have worked with in Barry County since my arrival in 2014. Before his election, we had developed a working relationship while he was the detective in Cassville, and that continued in his new role as sheriff.

Boyd is an honest individual who does not hold back when asked a question. He has gained my respect over the years for his ability to be transparent, even when things aren’t as good as he wants, and his work ethic to improve those areas not up to snuff.

The jail situation is a tough one for the still new sheriff just finishing his first year on the job. The biggest issue, which he has mentioned before and was a point for Burrows, as well, is staffing.

Since taking office, Boyd has never been able to fully staff the jail. Ideally, the jail has two corrections officers per shift, plus the sergeant supervisor and the jail administrator, utilizing 10 total officers on staff. Instead, the jail has had to make due at times with as few as six.

This problem compounds nearly every other issue Burrows mentioned. Doing things like laundry or cooking can be time-consuming, especially when inmates have medical issues that require an officer to provide one-on-one attention.

With an average of about 70 inmates at any given time, every corrections officer position needs filled. The issue is finding people who can do it and are willing to do it for the pay offered.

One issue Burrows brought up that I was surprised to hear about was the jail cell doors, some of which do not lock. Boyd said all of the pods lock, and jail staff have to be aware of which inmates are where to keep the people more prone to having issues in cells that do lock.

While it is a major safety issue for the jailers, Boyd is waiting for greener pastures, rather than stick a band-aid on what the county has now.

The shake-up and story that followed underscored the need for change in our county’s law enforcement, and some of it is coming.

The county has purchased a property on which to build a new jail and hopes to break ground next year. There is also a law enforcement tax on the ballot in April that would be an exponential benefit to the Sheriff’s Office.

Last year, each of the county’s half-cent taxes took in about $1.75 million. Combing the Sheriff’s Office and jail line items in the budget, about $1.6 million was requested this year.

No one likes new taxes, but the one proposed in April would make law enforcement and incarceration financially independent of the county and give a much greater ability to do things like raise salaries, buy better equipment or offer training.

Right now, Boyd is stretched thin and handcuffed to challenges that simply need more funding to be resolved.

Although it does not make sense, as Boyd said, to throw a lot of money at the current facility to do things like fix the cell doors, which cost about $4,000 each, passing the tax with the county funding a new jail would give the most promising future to Barry County law enforcement in many years.

It’s the kind of setup that would stabilize the Office for many more years to come, and I hope it gets the support it deserves.

Kyle Troutman has served as the editor of the Cassville Democrat since 2014. In 2017, he was named William E. James/Missouri Outstanding Young Journalist for daily newspapers. He may be reached at 417-847-2610 or editor@cassville-democrat.com.

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