Western Nebraska Observer - Observations all along the line - Kimball & the Southern Panhandle First

By Daniel Thompson
Editor 

Kimball County Jail renovated for health and safety issues

 

Daniel Thompson

Renovations to the plumbing and shower units in the Kimball County Jail are estimated to be done within the next week.

The Kimball County Jail, which sits on the top floor of the courthouse, is currently undergoing much needed maintenance to address health and safety issues that were brought before Kimball County Sheriff Harry Gillway and the Board of County Commissioners late last year.

According to Gillway, the project, which comes at a cost of approximately $18,000 to the county, entails replacing much of the old plumbing through the facility in order to reduce water leaks which have plagued the structure in recent years.

"With the pipes that were in there, leaks were happening that were running down into other offices of the courthouse which again could damage vital records. It was important, and it was time to do it," Gillway said.

The project will serve to replace all the piping and shower equipment throughout the facility.

"We're replacing two of the showers, the toilet, and the sink for the main cell, we're replacing all the plumbing throughout. We have a master cutoff switch now where if something were to happen back here, we can just go to one place and turn off all the water back there without disrupting the rest of the courthouse which is a big plus," Gillway said.

The project will also serve as a way to greatly modernize the jail facility, taking out much of the old equipment which has been showing the wear and tear of decades of use.

"This was a bandaid, but what this does is it brings us up to a modern standard. We had serious problems back there with rust, with mold, mildew . At the time, the jail was put back there, they never thought of these things. They probably didn't have stainless steal. Now, we're in a position where it was time to not just bandaid it but bring it up to modern standards that it will be, one, safer for the inmates and, two, reduce the liability to the county," Gillway said.

Gillway also stated that the current project will not have an effect on the jail's "grandfathered" status as the project has been cleared through both state and federal regulations and will stay within the limitations in order to keep its current status.

"When it comes to health and safety, it really doesn't matter to the state that you're doing the upgrade, because it's actually a benefit. If we were to attempt to add more beds back there to the main cell or if we were trying to cram in more people to that main cell, they would have a problem with that. But when it comes to health and safety, and this is a health and safety issue, they gave us the blessing," Gillway said.

During the renovations, inmates who had been housed in the Kimball jail have been transferred to Scotts Bluff County Jail to be brought back after its completion.

"Our jail population was down well enough that we were able to move who we had in here. They had room in Scotts Bluff and they took them. With any luck, this project will be done within the next week, and then we'll move them back," Gillway said.

Another aspect of the project, along with eliminating certain maintenance issue, is to make sure that elements that could serve as safety issues concerning inmates housed in the jail are removed.

"If the rust becomes so bad back there, there's a big concern that someone might be able to break some of that metal, work it back and forth and make a knife out of it. That could be a danger to people who are back there or even my jail staff," Gillway said.

Questions of safety in the jail as well as other jails in the surrounding cities have come to light after the death of Scotts Bluff Correctional Officer Amanda Baker, 24, on February 14 at which time she was lured into the cell of Dylan Cardeilhac, 15, of Torrington, Wyoming, who used the opportunity to strangle Baker. Baker was transported to Regional West Medical Center where she was declared brain dead around 3:20 p.m. and pulled off life support after her organs could be donated for transplant.

"What happened there was tragic. And I don't want to criticize what the officer did up there. We don't know what the circumstances were. We only know what's been released to the press," Gillway said.

However, though information was limited, Gillway states that people who read the story would withhold judgement when considering how Baker responded to the situation.

"Oftentimes, we're too quick to criticize or second guess what happened in a situation. Every situation is different, and I kind of feel that this woman was compassionate and probably didn't see the threat that was there. And, tragically, it took her life. But I can tell you that my dispatchers, corrections officers here have reflected on this greatly how often, how many times can things go wrong so quickly and to always remember that these people are in here. Some times they're minor crimes that they're back here for, but some times they're felonies," Gillway said.

It is with keeping in mind how quickly situations can turn for the worse that Kimball County Sheriff's Office dispatchers and correctional officers are given strict procedures to follow whenever entering the jail facility, most notably never opening the cell door without back up present.

"Even when we go back there as deputies, we take off our handgun. We may have our taser should the need arise. We had an incident here two weeks ago, and promptly it was defused. And we needed to move that person out of here, because he was becoming violent so we put him up in Scotts Bluff," Gillway said. "He was back there, and he was getting physical with the other inmates in the cell. But before that cell door came open, I was notified and a deputy was here before that door came open, and they subdued that individual and placed him under arrest and put him in Scotts Bluff. It's better equipped, better trained to deal with violent offenders."

This rule applies even in cases of emergencies within the jail, leaving correctional officers to fight the urge to resolve situations immediately by going into the cell alone to defuse the situation.

"We're all human. Dispatchers, corrections officers... we're all human. We want to help people. Our nature is to want to help people. We have to fight that back a lot and say we have a duty to live and to survive and not to open that door until I have back up," Gillway said.

Part of the training that both the dispatchers and correctional officers of the sheriff's office receive also focuses on not letting their guard down in any situation, especially taking into account data that points to inmates who may have a higher likelihood of trying to escape incarceration.

"A few years ago, the FBI released a statistic that said that the average criminal, violent criminal will take a correctional officers' life, a police officers' life for as little as $1,800 or two years imprisonment. I believe that may have even changed and gone down, because criminals have gotten more violent over the years. They don't want to go to the pen. They don't want to be incarcerated. Some times it's as simple as a drug addiction. 'I can't take going to the jail, because if I go in there, I'm going to die.' They're paranoid, and it gets the better part of them," Gillway said.

This need to constantly have one's guard up around inmates especially pertains to juvenile offenders, according to Gillway.

Daniel Thompson

A crew works on installing the new units in the facility.

"Oftentimes, we let our guard down with juveniles. Everybody still looks at juveniles as being kids. But here in our county alone we've had several very violent juvenile offenders including Ben Klaassen who is in the adult penitentiary for attempted murder. I mean this is a serious, very serious situation. We're seeing juveniles that are more violent than ever before in our society here in the United States," Gillway said.

The events surrounding the death of Baker have also served as a serious reminder to Gillway and his staff of both the vigilance needed in following the strict procedures when spending time in the jail and the tragic consequences that can occur when they're not.

"This situation, again, up there was a very tragic, tragic situation, and I feel for their families. I feel for the other correctional officers who have to live through this. I couldn't even imagine something like that happening here, and hopefully we never ever get into that situation where we ever have anything like that happen," Gillway said.

 

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