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In Our Opinion
May 20, 2004 12:00 am
It is a public facility that few citizens ever care to think about.
It is a place no one wants to end up.
Its residents are of little concern to most Wilson County residents.
The public employees that run it are among the lowest paid in the county.
Yet, the Wilson County Jail has become the focus of many in this county amid a U.S. Department of Justice criminal investigation of the facility and the guilty pleas in federal court of three former jailers.
And after a lengthy survey by this newspaper of more than 1,400 incident reports dating back to 1999, it become apparent that there is even more going on at the jail than what has already been revealed.
It becomes apparent that somewhere along the way, some of the public employees involved in our criminal justice system may have lost their way when it comes to knowing right from wrong and appropriate behavior from wholly inappropriate behavior.
There are accusations made by inmates and public employees of sexual acts within the jail.
There are accusations made of questionable personal relationships between public employees and inmates outside the facility.
There are complaints of drug use and contraband coming from the inmate population itself.
All of this comes on top of the already known transgressions within the jail, those that have ended up in federal court.
The Wilson County Jail, like any such facility, is integral to the safety and well being of the community. At the same time, the community must feel assured the facility is being operated in a moral, humane way.
That cannot be said given the substance of the federal investigation into the facility and our own findings in the series of stories we have offered readers this week on the jail.
It is important that law enforcement maintain the moral high ground when running such a facility on taxpayers' behalf. That high ground is far from reach at present.
We urge county leaders beyond Wilson County Sheriff Terry Ashe to become familiar with the jail and its workings. The county mayor and County Commission as the jail's funding body need to ask more questions about its policies and procedures. They need to ask more questions about the over $500,000 in monetary settlements paid out to former inmates their families in the last two years in civil suits.
There simply needs to be more of a civilian, non-law enforcement presence in the life of the jail. The Wilson County Commission already has a Law Enforcement Committee that could serve in such a capacity.
The present climate at the facility demands such oversight. We urge Ashe and his staff to welcome the aid and scrutiny given present circumstances.