The Clark County Jail has closed the pods that housed inmates beneath the Public Safety Building after concerns about security and safety but the jail still faces overcrowding problems.
The pods — former shipping containers that were modified to house about 50 inmates — have been beneath the jail for about 12 years, according to Lt. Michael Young, Clark County Jail administrator. They’re separated from the rest of the parking lot beneath the jail by a chain link fence on two sides.
They were brought in as a temporary place for juvenile inmates when that detention center was undergoing construction, he said, but as the jail population grew, nonviolent inmates were moved there.
“We’re constantly dealing with an overcrowding jail population and this seemed like a viable fit,” Young said.
But the pods presented security risks that weren’t present in the rest of the jail, he said. The public could walk by and interact with the inmates, he said. It would be possible for people to try to hand inmates drugs through the holes of the fence.
“There’s been several times where we’ve caught different people down by the fence,” Young said.
It was a stress on deputies who worked below the jail, he said, and they had to be on constant look out for passersby.
One inmate had escaped from the modular units several years ago and a female inmate attempted to escape last year but didn’t get out.
“As bad as our drug epidemic for Clark County is, that epidemic doesn’t stop once someone comes to the jail,” he said.
So in April, he said Clark County Sheriff Deb Burchett chose to close the pods and absorb the population inside of the jail.
“We really haven’t had that, ‘Oh my gosh,’ moment,” he said, “and that’s what the sheriff is really working hard to avoid.”
But that doesn’t help with the jail’s overcrowding problem, he said. And the pods may have to re-open if the population gets too high.
The Clark County Jail had 195 inmates on Monday, Young said, and can hold a maximum of 220 people without the pods.
The sheriff’s office has been working with Clark County judges to ask they shorten sentences or release non-violent inmates when possible, he said. The jail’s overcrowding problem puts a strain on the courts and probation officers, too, he said.
“If we get a significant spike then we’ll have to go back to the table and sheriff will make the decision on what we need to do,” Young said.
A new jail could be necessary, he said, but would be difficult to pay for.
“There are other priorities for our community as compared to building a new facility,” he said.
The sheriff’s office will meet with Clark County commissioners, he said, to determine the options to relieve overcrowding.
Denise Williams, president of the Springfield Unit of the NAACP, said she’d support a new facility. She had received multiple calls to complain about the conditions at the jail, including the pods.
“I see how the drugs could get in,” Williams said. “I also saw the cracks in the gates where the gates could be cut.”
She said the conditions in the pods were “deplorable” and she’s glad they’re closed. But the overcrowding needs to be addressed, she said.
“I’m hoping that money will come up so they can do what they have to do to make this place safe for these prisoners.”
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