Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, in a strongly worded letter to county legislators, called on them to move administration of the downtown jail from the county executive to the sheriff's office. In the letter, she said the jail is a "stubborn problem" and "it remains one of the most serious problems facing this County."
To help make her case she brought along three members of the county grand jury that wrote a scathing report on the jail, saying it was unsafe, filthy and fiscally mismanaged.
“There’s a management issue. There’s a safety and cleanliness issue," grand juror BK Christopher told the legislature Monday. "Building a new jail is not going to fix that problem unless we learn how to manage the jail we have.”
Two grand juries worked six months each to produce the 71 page report. The report also took to task Caleb Clifford, County Executive Frank White's chief of staff. The report said he was "condescending" and "derisive."
White's office fired back at the time, saying the report was political finger pointing.
Grand juror John Johnson read an open letter to White that said he and other grand jury members were "disheartened" by the response from White's office. “Having served on the grand jury that wrote this document, I know that we worked very hard to keep politics out of the report.”
Christopher said the grand jury's work was not about politics and urged action by legislators. “Please, please, please, don’t just bury this report," she said. "Please don’t let it be a political football that we keep punting at each other. Let’s stop. Let’s do the right thing. Let’s fix this problem.”
There is one big problem: the County Legislature cannot move oversight of the jail on its own. The charter must be changed and that means voters must weigh in.
Cliffford says the county executive will study whether the jail would be better run under the sheriff. He says that the report shows him everyone must work together to fix the jail. “If this is going to work we all have to work together so the singular person that it ultimately reports to is not as important as all of us working together,” Clifford says.
Interim Sheriff Darryl Forte was at the Monday meeting but slipped out without commenting.