County jail passes 12th consecutive inspection

Published 6:52 pm Friday, September 9, 2011

For the 12th year in a row, Cass County Jail passed its inspection with 100 percent compliance.
“We’re the only county in the state of Michigan that’s had 12 consecutive years,” Sheriff Joe Underwood advised the Board of Commissioners to applause Thursday night.
Underwood, accompanied by jail Capt. Richard Affriseo, commented, “It’s not something that comes about easily. The Department of Corrections started inspecting jails and lockups in 1998 to make sure they were in compliance with rules and regulations that it had set forth. It’s a booklet of about 10 pages. It’s not something you can get ready for overnight. Our jail inspection was on the 27th and we started the next day getting ready for the next one. It covers not only classification of inmates (of which September began with 122, which is about capacity), your policies and procedures, your medical treatment of how you take care of your inmates and their necessary needs. Their necessary needs, not what they want.”
The sheriff continued, “It involves the health department, which has to come out and inspect the jail. Food service. We have to maintain a certain amount of calories that the inmates have to receive on a daily basis. We have to have a schedule of how we feed the inmates. They inspect all of that information and come out to check that we’re not only compliant, but sanitary.”
Underwood said his staff works diligently on such procedures as firearms, use of force, fire safety equipment being up to date, the emergency operations plan and emergency release of inmates.
“This is not all done by the jail staff,” the sheriff said. “The county has a good maintenance director” in Dave Dickey. “He and his staff, when we have a problem, they’re out there taking care of it. It’s not the ‘new jail’ anymore,” but an aging facility which has passed its 20th anniversary.
“It’s the old jail,” Underwood said. “Things need to be fixed. You’ve seen by the bills you’ve gotten over the past couple of years that things break down. The jail has lasted a long time, not by happenstance, but because of a crew that works hard to make sure things are taken care of.”
Medical care is contracted through the Van Buren Health Department based in Hartford and with a district office in Cassopolis. “The nurse, Sue Kent, keeps that going. It’s not just the jail staff, but a combination of people.”
County Administrator Charles Cleaver, coming from a larger county, said he appreciates the lack of multi-million-dollar lawsuits filed against the jail compared to Saginaw.
“I don’t think you can think of the last time we had a lawsuit against the jail,” Underwood told commissioners. “That doesn’t happen by accident. We work with inmates and it’s how they’re treated. We’ve had lawsuits, but we defend them and we haven’t lost any. I compliment the board for taking care of the jail’s needs because they aren’t cheap. It’s a costly building.”
“You never give us enough staff,” the sheriff joked, “but we make do.”
“If you keep going, I’m going to cry,” cracked Commissioner Johnie Rodebush, D-Howard Township. “We appreciate what you do.”
Underwood, in response to a question about mental health needs from Commissioner Bob Wagel, R-Wayne Township, said, “Woodlands is another community partner that’s actively involved in the jail on a daily basis. We run several programs with Woodlands” to address drug addictions, from alcohol to methamphetamine.
“We don’t just lock them up and not worry about them anymore,” the sheriff said. “We try to give them tools to make themselves better people when they get out,” such as a GED program that tries to graduate at least one prisoner annually.
Underwood noted the jail population was up this summer.
“Crime is not going down,” he said, “with the shape the economy’s like. The drug team and the courts are extremely busy.”