Thursday, June 5, 2003

Pendleton officials tour Grant Co. jail

Abuse allegations precipitate visit

By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer

WILLIAMSTOWN - Pendleton Fiscal Court members toured the Grant County jail Wednesday as part of their inquiry into allegations of prisoner abuse at the 300-bed facility.

"We are not criminal investigators," said Pendleton County Judge-executive Henry Bertram after completing the hourlong guided tour. "This was just a fact-finding mission. At this time we have not gathered enough information to know if we should request a state investigation."

Four federal lawsuits claiming inmates' civil rights were violated, a state police investigation and an inquiry by the Justice Department have put jail officials on the offensive.

"We are not concerned with the care of prisoners," said Grant County Judge-executive Darrell Link, who also took the tour. "We pay the medical bills for these prisoners every month so we know they are getting good care."

The Grant County jail serves both Grant and Pendleton counties and also holds federal and state prisoners.

"This is not just a county jail," said Grant County Jailer Steve Kellam, who led the tour. "It is a small prison. This is not the jail of old days."

The facility was completed in May 2000 and cost $7.5 million.

The tour started where prisoners are booked.

Fiscal court members asked questions concerning jail policies - from when an inmate would be restrained to how valuables belonging to inmates are secured.

One fiscal court member sat down in a restraint chair while Bertram opened peepholes in cell doors to observe prisoners.

Many of the questions centered on the jail's video surveillance system. One suit filed by a Pendleton County resident claims surveillance footage that would support his claim of abuse was not kept by the jail.

Bertram said the purpose of the tour was for fiscal court members to learn what should go on at the jail. He said the tour will be followed up by unannounced visits.

"We now know how things should operate," Bertram said. "If we see something different during surprise visits, we will be asking questions."


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