Retired Ohio sheriff Gerry Billy doesn’t officially take over as administrator until Feb. 1, but he met with Curry County jail staff for about an hour Wednesday morning to get one thing straight.
“I just wanted to reassure them it’s going to be OK,” Billy said afterward. “I worry most about staff. After all, they’re the ones doing a life sentence in that building.”
Billy, 61, isn’t unaware of the challenges he and the staff face when he returns to Clovis to run a jail that’s made national headlines for escapes and other troubles.
“Our history,” said Billy, “is just that. Our history. It’s all in the past and its all new now.”
Billy said his first order of business is make sure the building is secure and completing a comprehensive building assessment.
The building assessment is, under his $84,000 a year contract, supposed to be completed by May 1. Billy said “I’ll have it done before that,” largely because it will serve as the guide for improvements and possible expansion of the jail.
Finishing it long before a special $9.3 million bond issue election set for April 3 will be critical, Billy said. It will provide the facts county commissioners and the public need to make an intelligent decision, he said.
Billy’s preliminary opinion of the jail building after only a brief walk-through is, “Obviously the person who built the jail had never built a jail before.”
Billy said traffic patterns alone inside the jail make it difficult on staff to adequately do their job. He also cited cases where walls don’t connect to the ceiling, creating an escape path for inmates so inclined.
Billy said another priority will be reducing the inmate population. He believes the jail population of about 260 inmates is high, based on the population of Curry County. Though he doesn’t know why it is so high, Billy said he will put together a database listing all prisoners and their charges to find patterns. Once patterns are established, he said, staff can determine ways to reduce the number of inmates.
But chief among Billy’s concerns is getting the staff involved in rewriting policies and procedures in the jail. He believes the escapes and attempted escapes that have plagued the jail were due in a large part to either flawed policies and procedures or failing to follow them.
Billy said having staff rewrite policies and procedures gets them more personally involved. First, he said, because it means those policies and procedures will become a working tool for staff rather than an order from the front office. And two, when staff is helping author the changes, “That,” he said, “fosters ownership.”
Billy said to expect to see “enormous change” at the jail. He came out of retirement to Curry County because he considers it a challenge and “kind of a final act” in his long law enforcement career.