The candidates for Bell County Jailer took the stage at the Middlesboro Civic Center on Tuesday for the second of four debates this week. The candidates in attendance were Bruce Mason, Doyle Halcomb, Eddie Jones, Eddie Farmer, Gary Ferguson, Jason Gregory, John Partin and Pam Lawson.
The panel, who were the individuals asking submitted questions, included Julia Herron, Charles Burchfield and Sue White.
The candidates ranged from a wide-variety of backgrounds with many of them having experience in law enforcement, department of corrections and some even working in the jail for multiple years.
Out of the several questions asked during the debate, one of the main topics included the ability to keep drugs out of the jail.
Ferguson said if he is elected into office, he will have a zero tolerance when it comes to drugs in the jail. He said if an employee was caught with drugs, it would result in an immediate dismissal. Inmates found with drugs would be re-arrested and sent through the court system.
Gregory said the situation would be treated to the fullest extent of the law. Being involved with the work release program, he said there is no doubt that drugs get into the jail through the program.
Gregory said if inmates were not allowed to bring money out with them during work release, it would cut down on the contraband getting into the jail.
Partin explained that if he was jailer, the person going out with the inmates would be responsible for allowing the inmate to get the drugs. Inmates who brought drugs into the facility would be charged.
Lawson’s plan for keeping drugs out of the jail included having deputy jailers take inmates out on work release. The deputy jailer would be responsible for those inmates. She also said something that helped in the past (when she first started) was keeping work release inmates away from the other inmates.
Mason said he would discipline the violator to the fullest extent of the law and policy and procedure if he was elected jailer.
Halcomb plans to have inmates thoroughly searched when they are brought in by police officers. He said any employee caught trafficking drugs in the jail would be charged by him personally. He also said more training for officers would aid in the effort to keep drugs out of the jail.
For Jones, he said he will implement training that would teach employees to search and look for signs of drugs. He also said the drugs in the jail are a daily problem, and the jail currently does everything they can to keep them out.
Farmer said it would be good to have random drug tests administrated to the work release.
Another focal point of the debate was the changes each candidate would perform if elected into office. The candidates were allowed to name two changes they would make.
The first to answer the question was Halcomb. He said the jail would be run on a merit system, which means good behavior would equal privileges. Those who do not express good behavior would not receive those privileges.
Halcomb also expressed a desire for a commons area where inmates could sit down with their family.
Jones said he would like to continue seeing GED testing so inmates could get their GED while behind bars. He would also like to see the inmates being kept up in a better fashion.
For Farmer, starting a drug program would help the jail. He said the program could help those incarcerated from coming back to jail.
Farmer also said the jail needs more bunks because there are too many people who have to sleep on the floor.
Protocol and rehab were the two things on Ferguson’s agenda. He said he wants to have a protocol for every situation no matter what. He said he wants the employees to be able to handle any situation.
On the rehab side, Ferguson said he wanted a program that would truly rehab inmates. He also said he wanted to teach them something that would keep them out of jail.
Gregory said he feels as though the jail should be more involved in the community. He said the jailer needs to be involved in the school. He also explained that the jail needs a proper chapel, one that mimics the chapel found in the hospital.
Better food quality and changes to the work release program was the focal point of Partin’s discussion. He said the jail is wasting food because the inmates won’t eat it.
Partin also said too much contraband is getting into the jails through work release. His idea is to have an officer take inmates out on work release.
Lawson spoke about training and the ability for people to work off their fines. She said at another jail, individuals with fines had the option to work off their fines instead of being lodged in jail.
The next debate is today at 8 p.m. at the Bell Theater in Pineville. The debate will feature the candidates for Bell County Judge-Executive.
Anthony Cloud can be contacted at 606-302-9090 or on Twitter @AnthonyCloudMDN.