After we focused on the G1 (Veterans) Dorm of the Clay County Jail in a recent article, we found that there was interest from the community in the overall operation and mission of the facility. On this day, we are taking you back behind the bars, razor wire, and steel doors for a behind-the-scenes tour of this detention center. In this second part of our conversation with Director Joe Bucci and Lt. Harwood of the Clay County Sheriff’s Department, we learned that roughly 36% of the current jail population is receiving some type of mental health service. Specifically, these services include support for challenges that fall under the vast umbrella of mental health needs. For many, these services are required because of drug abuse, and the jail has partnered with organizations to enact a Vivitrol™ program to reduce cravings for alcohol and opioids. Services for non-drug-related mental health issues include anger management and a focus on social skill development to prevent problematic behavior.
As we travel through the maze of the vast building, Lt. Harwood points us towards one room where a group of inmates are gathered in a session for one of the many in-house improvement programs. The purpose of these types of programs is to promote model inmate behavior while also preparing the incarcerated for a time when they will leave the jail and transition back into their community. While compliance and good behavior is the typical response of inmates in the Veterans Dorm, the sheer magnitude of the inmate population combined with the severity of their alleged crimes can result in chaotic and aggressive behavior. To address these challenges, correction officers must be well-trained and remain vigilant of their surroundings. Unlike some jail facilities, inmates in the Clay County jail do not move about freely outside of their dorms. Whether transferring to another area or serving as a trustee, each inmate is escorted by jail personnel and kept under the watchful eye of centralized camera systems and audio monitors. For additional safety, inmates appearing in court are transferred through an internal tunnel connected to the courthouse instead of being taken outside of the facility. A display of confiscated contraband in the lobby of the jail reminds visitors of the dangers that even the most simple of objects can pose when they are fashioned into weapons. To prevent introduction of contraband into the jail, specially trained K9s and their handlers are deployed without notice throughout the dorms and hallways.
Fulfilling the mission of securing the jail facility is not the only focus of Director Bucci and his team. With a smile and a sense of pride, the Director shared a list of programs that have been implemented to assist the inmates with re-entry into the public. Volunteers and organizations have been brought in to teach automotive repair, commercial driver’s license (CDL), and lawn maintenance. Recently, a vendor was polishing some of the concrete floors and the work piqued the curiosity of some inmates. After putting the proper safeguards in place, a program was developed to train inmates in the floor polishing profession. Once these trained inmates are released from jail, local companies have committed to providing jobs (and thus stability) for newly released. Organizations like Operation New Hope also come alongside the released inmates to assist with the unique challenges faced during re-entry. As we begin to wrap up our tour with Lt. Harwood, he rattles off an impressive list of more programs that have been enacted to help inmates and those exiting the jail. “We have programs for active parenting, AA/NA, a Chaplain’s Corner, tablets with Apps for learning and training, resume’ writing, job interview skills, a culinary program, and we are currently developing a heavy equipment operator course. Add to that classes for music appreciation and art, and we are genuinely pouring out opportunity for those who are willing to improve themselves.”
Though some who have been incarcerated are habitual or extreme offenders who will likely be long-term visitors, many are people who made a poor decision based on what they believed to be limited options. The members of the Clay County Sheriff’s Office who oversee the operation of the jail are committed to helping those who are willing to walk away from their poor decisions and create a better life for themselves and their families. For some, the path to freedom begins just behind those iron bars.