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Jail earns praise for drug cleanup

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By Linda Ireland

In July 2007, a state inspection turned up drug paraphernalia, pornography, homemade knives and alcohol at the LaRue County Jail. In addition to the contraband search, 59 inmates were tested for drug use. Four tested positive for marijuana; eight for cocaine.

A year has made a big difference at the jail.

On Sept. 2, two state inspectors again checked the facility. This time, 47 inmates were tested – all had negative results.

Jeff R. Burton, assistant director of local facilities for the Kentucky Department of Corrections, said LaRue jail inmates have had no positive drug tests since Sept. 1, 2007. The information was obtained through an open records request by The LaRue County Herald News.

The jail has made progress in combating drugs since December 2006 when the community works program was suspended after 20 inmates tested positive for drugs. Staff and community works supervisors have undergone training and some processes have been changed.

Inmate drug abuse sometimes is connected with work programs, when someone in the community provides the drugs that are brought into the jail. The training helps the supervisors spot suspicious circumstances.

C.L. Watts, jail service specialist, said last week it is unusual for a county jail to have no positive drug tests.

“We feel like that’s a good sign – that somebody’s doing something right,” he said.

If an inmate had tested positive, the situation would have been documented and the inmate penalized, Watts said. Penalties include loss of privilege to be in the work detail from five days to three months. The inmate also could be “pulled into larger state institutions,” Watts said.

The drug tests “enable us to know…who’s not going by the rules,” Watts said.

T-shirts for inmates

On Sept. 2, the community works program was again suspended. This time it was because of a wardrobe problem, not due to rumored drug use.

Level One inmates, those approved for the program, are not required to work, but if they do, they must wear a garment identifying them as inmates in public areas, according to Travis Strader, chief deputy for the jail. The program was halted for a few days until T-shirts for the inmates could be ordered.

LaRue County jail inmates are  easily spotted when they work with city or county employees at the recycling center or at Parks and Recreation. They wear bright orange T-shirts with LCDC (LaRue County Detention Center) on the back.

They also wear an identification badge that includes the name of their supervisor.

 

The shirts cost $600 and were purchased using jail canteen funds, according to LaRue County Judge-Executive Tommy Turner. No county tax dollars were used.

“So, in other words, the inmates purchased them for themselves,” Turner said.

Strader said  inmates gave a “mixed reaction” about wearing the shirts.

“They just like to be able to get out and work on their time,” he said.

Jill Gray, coordinator for Renaissance Recyling, is assisted by six inmates at the center. The inmate’s bright T-shirts haven’t made a lot of difference in the way the men are perceived by the public, she said. Mostly, people who drop off items at the recycling center are simply appreciative that someone is there to help them unload their vehicles.

“It’s never been a secret that we use inmates,” Gray said. “My guys work hard and most of the community loves them. People are always bragging about how good natured and well-mannered they are.”

Community work release inmates

• Are not required to work – they’re volunteers at picking up trash, working in the recycling center or cleaning an illegal dump. They could choose to sit inside the jail all day.

• Are in jail for non-violent crimes such as child support, alcohol or drug abuse or in one case, changing the VIN number on a car.

• Are, for the most part, at the very end of their sentence and will be released into the community in a few months.

• Are allowed to learn additional vocational skills.