The Sun News

Running Houston jail

Maj. Alan Everidge
Maj. Alan Everidge

Houston County sheriff’s Maj. Alan Everidge is the administrator of the county jail, which houses an average of 425 to 450 inmate a day.

Residence: Perry

Occupation: Jail administrator, Houston County Sheriff’s Detention Center

Q: What’s the purpose of the Houston County Sheriff’s Detention Center?

A: It’s our job to keep inmates safe and secure until their appearance in the courts. We keep them pre-trial but also have inmates who’ve been to court and sentenced to serve short-term for 30, 60, 90 days. Maybe 180, maybe more, courts set how long. We also house people convicted and waiting transport to a Georgia Department of Corrections Probation Detention Center like the McEver Probation Detention Center nearby or another type facility.

Q: Where is your center?

A: In Perry off Perry Parkway (203 Perry Parkway) just across the way from the Houston County Courthouse — to the west in back. Both were built in 2002 with SPLOST money so it’s 15 years old.

Q: In years past would it be called the county jail?

A: That would be the old-time name.

Q: How many was it built for?

A: Originally 506 but we’ve added two pods and now it’s 666. On average there are 425 to 450 a day and we book in 9,000 to 10,000 a year. We house men and women over 17.

Q: What’s the breakdown?

A: About 90 percent male, 10 percent female. We saw an increase in female inmates in past years but that’s turned around some now.

Q: Why?

A: Mainly related to drugs. Not so much selling but related crime like theft, shoplifting, credit card fraud, some violent crime and other issues. Big thing is prescription drug abuse like oxycodone.

Q: How do you determine where inmates are housed? Where and with whom?

A: There’s a classification point system based on current and past charges, history, type charges and those things. It’s set so someone on misdemeanor shoplifting isn’t a bunkmate with a murderer. There are inmates here for serious felony and for misdemeanor charges. The majority is for felony.

Q: Why? And roughly describe the difference.

A: For instance, shoplifting, stealing $100 worth of clothes, is a misdemeanor. Possessing less than an ounce of marijuana is a misdemeanor. Of course, murder is a felony. Theft larger than $1,500 is a felony. Georgia changes the amount from time to time but that’s it now. People on misdemeanor charges tend to make bond while if felony bond is offered it’s much higher. Judges look at the chance of re-offending, intimidating witnesses, fleeing and other things related to the crime history.

Q: Who operates the center?

A: By Georgia law, the sheriff is chief law enforcement officer of the county and mandated to run the jail. As part of his department I’m assigned to oversee operations day to day. Then it goes to squads and operational units, like our guards and ancillary units that keep things going and the building maintained. Things like clothes, laundry, food, daily goods like toilet paper, transportation — those things and more. We have someone over professional standards, background checks, investigations in-facility and internal training. We train a lot to stay current on policies and procedures, on drugs, on the latest tricks of inmates. Realize most of the people in here have proven they don’t get along with others or play by the rules.

Q: How about staff — what’s the guard-to-prisoner ratio?

A: One to 60. Again, realize guards deal with people who don’t go by the rules outside and they don’t become ladies and gentlemen just because they’re here.

Q: Is that ratio typical?

A: We do something called direct supervision. It’s not everywhere but it’s a widely held and growing philosophy and 1 to 60 is common. In indirect supervision, there’s a guy in a tower and a guy in a control room watching monitors. In direct supervision, there’s someone in the unit with inmates as well as others in the control room, tower, whatever. We’re relating to inmates daily, getting to know them and minimizing disturbances. They see if an inmate’s depressed or sick or something. They can watch security and see if the facility is being damaged. In a sense they’re the cop on the beat 12 hours a day.

Q: Sounds stressful. Is it?

A: Most who leave don’t go to other law enforcement agencies, a few do, but most just get out of the profession. It’s a trying job but we don’t just hire anybody to get a body in here. We look at the best possible candidates for good moral character, ethics, mental toughness, the ability to handle themselves but at the same time the ability to have empathy, feel for people and talk to them. I tell you, with media attention and anti-law enforcement attitudes we’ve seen a decline in people wanting to get involved. More people are saying, “I just don’t want to go there.” Personally, I couldn’t have more respect for our people. Our staff is as much a part of law enforcement and the overall system as anyone.

Q: What’s your staff size?

A: From top to bottom, 163 including myself and the newest deputy recruit, administrators, drivers who do transport, all of it. We contract out things like food services who oversee our kitchen to make sure we meet standards and guide inmates who do the cooking. Same for medical care nurses and all, they’re contracted.

Q: Can you outline jails and prisons out there?

A: Municipalities in Houston County have their cells but transport prisoners to us by law. Except Perry. Perry contracts with us and has no cells. They bring people straight here. We’re the pre-trial detention center but house some convicted inmates as I mentioned. Then there are state probationary detention centers with people generally sentenced for less than six months for offenses and breaking parole. That’s what the McEver center is and they provide the work details you see. Our inmates aren’t on work details. Then there are minimum, medium and maximum security state prisons and finally federal prisons. Roughly that’s it.

Q: What’s the biggest issue you — the center and personnel — face?

A: Today I’d tell you it’s two things, almost the same. No. 1 is mental health. Across the nation people with mental health issues are out in public. Many don’t have support networks and get involved in crime — not usually big or violent but trespassing, shoplifting, being aggravating in a neighborhood. For whatever reason, law enforcement is called and they end up here. Obviously they can be very difficult especially if they’re not on medication and we can’t force anyone to take their medications. That and just some personalities you have to deal with and finding people willing to deal with them. It’s tough. Guards may have inmates throw feces or urine and other things. That’s terrible. Like I say, I have the greatest respect for our people and think they deserve respect from the community. I appreciate the support we get.

Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at mwpannell@gmail.com.

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