New jail handbook released for prisoners

Going by the book — literally

Posted 3/10/19

Inmates at the Walker County Jail will now go by the book - literally.Walker County Sheriff Nick Smith, who took office in January, has implemented a new "inmate handbook" to make sure inmates are …

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New jail handbook released for prisoners

Going by the book — literally


Inmates at the Walker County Jail will now go by the book - literally.

Walker County Sheriff Nick Smith, who took office in January, has implemented a new "inmate handbook" to make sure inmates are aware of what is expected of them. Smith recently released a copy of the handbook to the Daily Mountain Eagle. 

A handbook for the jail was created in 1998, but fell into disuse for some reason, he said Friday. 

“People have been let go for so long, and they’ve kind of run the jail,” Smith said Friday. “People need to realize under this administration that if you put your hands on somebody in our jail," that will result in more jail time. "We are going to charge you and we’re going to hold you accountable for everything you do in that jail. We expect you to act right and do your time and move on.” 

Smith said inmates did not have a handbook to detail what is expected of them in the jail, as well as the punishment for violating a rule. The handbook was created “so our inmates know what their rights are, and also that they know what the consequences are when they violate rules inside the jail.” 

He said the jail is under renovation and once a dorm is completed and inmates are installed, they are handed off a new handbook and sign off they have read it and understand the rules. One dorm housing 30 inmates has been completed over about 30 days, and handbooks have been distributed to them. He did not have a timeline for when the dorm renovations and handbook distributions would be completed. 

The handbooks have not been distributed to other areas not renovated yet because those areas are hard to manage due to the disrepair, he said. Officials recently have described problems with locks, toilets and lights, for example, and that inmates have been more free to roam from cell to cell within a dorm. No problems have arisen in the dorm that has been completed, he said. 

Smith said the public may say the inmates are in jail to start with because they didn’t follow rules, but the handbook and its rules will still help jailers to better manage problematic prisoners. 

A couple hundred copies of the handbook have been ordered. But in time, Smith is hoping that the handbook can be available in a digital form to save printing costs. 

“We’re in the process of looking into a company that will be able to integrate it into our system where basically it will be paperless and they will be able to read it off the visitation monitor with their kiosk, and they will be able to sign and acknowledge that they read it off the kiosk,” he said. Inmates would still be able to bring up copies of the handbook up on the kiosk at any time if a question later came up about a detail. 

According to the handbook, the jail houses inmates "awaiting trial in county, federal, and Bureau of Prisons court systems and convicted inmates either serving county, state, federal or BOP sentences and awaiting transfer to penitentiary." 

The handbook emphasized that security is a high priority. If they are transferred to the state, comments and recommendations from the Sheriff's Office staff, based on their conduct at the local jail, will be forwarded to the state. 

About two dozen orientation rules are listed, requiring the bed to be made neatly by morning inspection, and the cell and the day room will be cleaned after breakfast. Inmates have to be clothed at all waking hours (and covered going to the shower), and they cannot enter other cells or touch other inmates' property. 

"You may not communicate with anyone outside the jail except by mail, telephone or scheduled visits," the book notes, nor can they yell to anyone outside the jail or pound on the doors. They are to keep down noise levels, shower daily, and walk in single file when escorted through the halls. "No messages will be taken for inmates from family or friends," it said and money orders and clothes are accepted in the front lobby during business hours only. 

Jail employees will protect inmate rights, the handbook said. That includes freedom from discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, sex, handicap and political beliefs; equal access to programs and work assignment; protection from personal abuse, personal injury, disease, property damage and harassment; and freedom from reprisals or penalties as a result of seeking administrative or judicial redress.

“They still have rights when they are in jail, and we still have to uphold certain laws,” Smith said. “Even though they have done whatever they have done to land them in jail, we’re still held accountable to abide by the law and what the law requires us to furnish them.” He said the jail has gotten in its current condition “because we’ve not been compliant for three years.” 

The requirements for conduct are detailed. One section notes prohibitions against blocking doors and stairways, smoking, keeping non-commissary food items in the cell, throwing trash on the floor or in the toilet, removing mattresses from the cell. Men can only wear underwear and socks from outside the jail, while women can wear personal underwear and wireless bras. 

Items that can be kept in the cells include a toothbrush, tube toothpaste, towels, washcloths, a bar of soap, and shampoo and conditioner. They may also have 10 letters, one "small softback Bible (religious material which has been altered will be considered contraband)," three photos, approved legal materials, approved educational and program materials, authorized commissary items (empty containers must be thrown out). Misuse or destruction of jail property will result in possible discipline and charges.

Lockdowns are at 8 p.m. and meals are served three times a day. A commissary is available, but no credit is available and buying items for other inmates is a major rule violation termed as "transfer of property." No more than $35 worth of consumable commissary products are available at any one time. Notary service is available for legal documents. 

Collect calls can be made from the dayroom from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., without charging calls to other numbers. "Calls must be limited to 10 minutes," and phone access or interruptions to calls may occur if deemed necessary. Mail is unlimited if the inmate can pay for postage through the commissary. 

Visitation is not considered "a privilege, not a right" in the handbook. 

"You are allowed 30 minutes a week on your dorms scheduled visitation day. You may have two visitors during this time, with each visitor allowed 15 minutes of visitation time. Visitors are allowed to visit one at a time." Visitors must be 16 or older and show an ID. If the visitor has been incarcerated in the jail within the past six months of the day of the visit, they will not be allowed to visit for 90 days. Convicted felons or persons out on felony band are now allowed visits, and inmates may not visit other inmates. 

Members of the criminal justice system and approved professional visitors may visit at any reasonable time, if staff and space is available," the handbook says. "Contact visits are not allowed," and special visits must be approved by the sheriff, chief deputy or jail administrator. 

No electronic devices, including cell phones, cameras and tape recorders, are allowed. Visitors cannot wear tank tanks, mini-skirts, halter tops, sheer clothing, shorts or clothing which with vulgar or profane logos or graphics; they are also asked to not curse or use vulgar hand signals. 

Smith said Friday each inmates is required by law to have 15 minutes of free visitation. “If they want more visitation time, they have to pay for it,” he said. 

On medical or dental service service, the inmate can fill out a request form to be put in a nurse's box. They will be charged a co-pay for doctor visits and all medications. Dental treatment and optometric evaluations will only be provided on an emergency basis or on a doctor's referral. Medications will be kept in the jail infirmary and provided by a health provider. 

"If you desire to be examined by any other physician or medical specialist other than the ones normally used by the Sheriff's Department, you may arrange for him or her to come to the jail to see you at your expense. A private visit will be permitted at the jail," the handbook notes. 

Religious services are held weekly, and the jail "does not discriminate against any recognized religious beliefs or practices." Clergy who have proper ID can visit from 8 to 10 a.m. on Thursday and and Sunday. 

"Inmates wishing to be baptized will need to contact their attorney to get a court order from a judge if it is necessary that they leave the facility to be baptized," the handbook said. 

Under personal safety, the handbook advises if "you are threatened, assaulted or feel intimidated or unsafe, tell the staff. We will, insofar as possible, do what is necessary to protect you. For you own protection, do not discuss your charges with other inmates." 

Rule violations are designated as either minor, major or serious, with about 50 violations listed and categorized that way, ranging from profanity and horseplay, to inciting a fight and gambling, to items like assault and escape. Hearings and appeals are allowed in the discipline process, with a 24-hour disciplinary lockdown possible for minor offenses. For major and serious matters, a disciplinary report is provided and an investigation starts within 48 hours of a violation being reported.

Within 24 hours of the end of the investigation, one is given a written copy of charges requiring a hearing, and one has 24 hours notice of a hearing. If one asks for help to understand the process, a staff member will be assigned. Witnesses may be called, but refusing to testify may be taken as admission of guilt and one cannot cross examine witnesses nor have an attorney present. One may make an oral or written statement, present documents and examine documents. 

One may be placed on disciplinary status, meaning only the following will be given: One hour per 24 hours out of the inmate's cell for recreation, 15 minutes for each meal and each shower, phone calls to attorneys or clergy, mail, as well as "adequate food, light ventilation, temperature, sanitation and medical care" and "proper clothing, bed, bedding, and use of toilets, sinks and showers." Any sanction of over 10 days must be approved by the jail administrator, and the longest sanction for any rule violations arising from one incident is 60 days.