Big Sandy jail has many problems, interim administrator says

official brought in after arrests sees problems

dhjalmarson@herald-leader.comJune 5, 2010 

PAINTSVILLE — The interim administrator of the Big Sandy Regional Detention Center, hired last month after the previous administrator was indicted, will seek nearly $500,000 in upgrades to the 25-year-old facility.

Randy Madan, a retired associate warden at the Big Sandy federal prison in Martin County, said problems at the four-county regional jail include security, safety, cleanliness and financial issues.

"We have some fairly serious problems here, and we're working on them," Madan said in an interview Friday.

He said, for example, that the jail is nearly $500,000 behind in collecting booking fees, which total around $130 that is supposed to be paid by an inmate before release.

John Harmon, the former jail authority board president, did not appear for his scheduled arraignment on a felony theft charge in Johnson Circuit Court Friday. His attorney, Jerry Patton, told the judge that Harmon had an emergency appendectomy this week.

Harmon was discharged from the hospital Thursday but is under a doctor's orders to stay in bed, Patton said after the hearing. Patton said Harmon will plead not guilty at his arraignment, which was rescheduled for June 18.

"He maintains his innocence," Patton said.

Harmon, 64, of Pilgrim in Martin County, was charged in May with theft of more than $300, a class D felony, by submitting vouchers for unauthorized travel and expenses to and from the jail and to conferences, court records say.

Court documents say the alleged theft occurred from Jan. 18, 2007, through March 2009.

Harmon is running for a seat on the Martin County fiscal court.

Suspended jail administrator Henry "Butch" Williams, 54, of Oil Springs in Johnson County, who is charged with accepting a bribe from an inmate, pleaded not guilty at his arraignment Friday, but was not available for comment after the hearing.

Police said Williams accepted a Ford F-150 pickup in January 2009 from an inmate in exchange for having the inmate's wife transferred to Big Sandy from another jail.

Madan was hired last month to replace Williams, who is under orders to stay away from the jail until his trial is complete.

On his initial tour of the jail, Madan said, he noted problems with fire safety equipment and with exits that were blocked or rusted shut.

He said the heating and air-conditioning system is partially broken down, and kitchen equipment needed to be upgraded.

He didn't want to publicize specifics but said security issues included procedures and vehicles for transporting inmates, with weapons certifications for employees, and with locking out contraband such as drugs.

The jail, which houses about 230 inmates — about a dozen "high security" and 40 "medium security" — is over capacity, he said.

Madan has implemented strip searching and "dry cells" to monitor incoming inmates for contraband.

He said jail employees have collected a crate full of drugs from pills to tobacco.

Madan, who started work last week, has not fired anyone and said he wants to retrain them rather than arbitrarily dismiss employees in an effort to "clean house."

He said he thinks employees have been open to training, helpful and appreciative.

One employee, Harmon's wife, resigned voluntarily, although Madan said there was no problem with her work.

Madan said he is interested in hiring a few more employees, including one who would focus on internal investigations of inmates, and potentially of employees.

The jail's fee for housing inmates is also one of the lowest in the state, $22 per day, and not all of the four counties that feed the jail have paid up, he said.

Madan said he would be presenting at least 15 problem items — with a price tag of about $500,000 — to the Regional Jail Authority, which includes Johnson, Martin, Magoffin and Lawrence counties. The board meets June 17.

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