Lawrence jail over capacity, but officials call social media posts on COVID and abuse

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Oct. 8—MOULTON — The Lawrence County Jail last week had about 50 more inmates than its designed capacity and requested Moulton police backup for a disturbance, but officials on Thursday said the facility has not had a COVID-19 outbreak or allowed inmate mistreatment.

Lawrence County Sheriff Max Sanders and his jail administrator denied posts on social media that “over half the jail is sick” with COVID and that inmates had been raped and beaten by other inmates.

“Our COVID numbers change daily,” Sanders said. “Last week, we had six cases, and four are about over it. (Wednesday) we had one with COVID come in from Town Creek. … I’m not going to defend ourselves from what people post on social media.”

Danny McMillin, Lawrence County jail administrator, called the social media posts on COVID infections “totally false.”

“We have a medical staff from a private company hired by the County Commission, and they reported six confirmed cases in the past week,” McMillin said.

About seven to 10 inmates were taken to the local hospital for testing for illnesses in the past three weeks, he added.

McMillin said a social media post complaining about inmates having to sleep on bare concrete floors and having to wait days for showers “is false as well.”

He said the jail, designed for 96 inmates, had about 150 inmates last week. “Everyone has a mattress and blanket,” McMillin said. “They sleep on a ‘boat.’ ” He said a jail boat is a hard plastic boat-like structure, turned upside down to lift the mattress off the floor.

He said inmates in lockdown might go one or two days without a shower “because they are seen as a danger to themselves or others.”

Inmates stopping up sinks and toilets trying to flood cells for attention is a “weekly occurrence,” McMillin said.

On reports of inmates being raped and beaten by other inmates, he said he is not aware of any serious attacks since he became jail administrator in April.

“We have cameras throughout the jail and we haven’t seen anything,” he said. “Our staff is very proactive in PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act). … The majority of what (the social media posts) are saying is half-fabricated truth.”

Sanders said a disturbance in the jail on Sept. 26 was created by “three or four inmates” in a cell block who threatened the staff.

“We had three inmates put on lockdown,” he said. “They were destroying property and stopping up the plumbing.”

Moulton Police Chief Craig Knight said he and three of his officers assisted in quelling the Sept. 26 disturbance.

“As it turned out, it wasn’t that bad. We responded to assist where a cell block got out of hand,” he said. “We stood by to provide additional security. I think a show of force by law enforcement kept anything worse from happening. It definitely wasn’t a riot.”

Knight said it appeared about three inmates out of 30 in the cell block became unruly.

County Commission Chairman Norman Pool said the alleged recent issues at the jail noted on social media “is the first I have heard of it.”

“We have a commission meeting (this) morning,” he said. “If people are really concerned about what is going on at the jail, they should address the commission. You can’t believe most of what you read on social media.”

Sanders asked the County Commission for an additional two deputies and two corrections officers in the fiscal 2022 budget. His request was denied as all departments were level funded for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. McMillin said on some shifts two jailers oversee 150 inmates.

“We’re trying to be good stewards of the county’s money,” Pool said. “The money simply is not available.”

mike.wetzel@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2442. Twitter @DD_Wetzel.

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