Ala. jail to replace locks after discovering inmates were able to open cell doors

The work will replace about 330 locks and take approximately 300 days


By Christopher Harress
Alabama Media Group, Birmingham

MOBILE, Ala. — The Mobile County Commission agreed during an emergency meeting Tuesday morning to spend nearly $700,000 replacing faulty locks in the Metro Jail after it was discovered inmates were able to open some cell doors.

The work will replace about 330 locks and take approximately 300 days, according to Kathy Eddy, director of public affairs at the county commission. The first 16 weeks of the contract will be dedicated to the manufacturing of the locks, she said.

The work is to cost $678,974, or about $2,000 per lock, and is set to start as soon as possible, according to Eddy.

Eddy said that inmates will be circulated around the jail as the work progresses.

The fault was first discovered at the jail two weeks ago and affected an area occupied by about 36 federal inmates, according to MCSO’s public affairs director Lori Myles. She said that inmates were able to tamper with the locks before opening them.

The three dozen inmates were escorted to Baldwin and Conecuh County jails by U.S. Marshals, according Myles.

While only a small portion of the locks were deemed to be faulty, the commission authorized the replacement of all locks similar to those that failed.

Commission President Jerry Carl said that he was fully committed to supporting the Sheriff’s office.

“The Mobile County Commission is strong in its commitment to the Sheriff and those under his command,” said Carl. “We will do all we can to protect their safety and the safety of the inmates in Metro Jail.”

All three commissioners said that inmate safety was their priority.

A county commission statement released last week noted that since 2008 the county has committed $2 million to the upgrading and maintenance of doors and locks at the Metro Jail. That includes $691,000 in annual maintenance, $976,000 in door and lock improvements (Phases 1 and 2) and another $500,000 committed to the current Phase 3 upgrades. “The County Commission has also earmarked an additional $15 million in capital improvement funding for jail expansion and renovations,” noted the statement.

However, the replacement of the locks is only a small part to some of bigger issues at the jail.

Upon the discovery of the fault, jail warden Trey Oliver said the jail was “understaffed” and “overpopulated” before saying that, in his opinion, inmates had become more violent over the last 20 years.

The jail has been dogged by various problems for at least 15 years, and before current Sheriff Sam Cochran took over had attracted the attentions of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. Among the issues noted in federal reports from the early 2000s viewed by AL.com were a series of constitutional violations regarding medical and mental health care, as well as the use of restraints, and issues surrounding safety, sanitation and violence.

The report contended that some deaths were directly related to these oversights. Approximately six years later in early 2009, follow up correspondence from the DOJ noted that little had been down to reverse the problems at the jail.

As recently as April this year, the jail had about 1,540 people locked up, according to a representative from the Sheriff’s Dept. Its total capacity is 1189 beds. Warden Oliver has acknowledged that cells designed for two people will have up to seven people in them.

©2019 Alabama Media Group, Birmingham

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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