Barnhart Visits Monroe County Jail

Barnhart and Capt. Doc McGowan

The following is a statement from Rachel Barnhart regarding a tour of the Monroe County Jail facility downtown.

On Thursday, January 30, Capt. Doc McGowan and Ann Kennedy gave me a tour of the Monroe County Jail. I wanted to share with you some observations.

I was impressed with the medically assisted treatment program for inmates addicted to opioids. This forward-thinking and humane program is administered by medical professionals and experts in addiction. I learned that the state prison system does not offer medically assisted treatment, meaning inmates who must transfer from the jail to prison have to first undergo painful detoxification. There are bills in the legislature to require the prison system to offer such treatment.

Next month, Sheriff Todd Baxter will announce a new program focused on making sure inmates can succeed once they are released. The pilot program will be located in a former jail facility on East Henrietta Rd. Inmates will learn life skills and a trade.

The jail has a Veterans Unit. I saw about a dozen inmates in this unit. They wear blue, which sets them apart. They can have access to special services for veterans.

The old part of the jail built in the 1960s, called the Mainframe, is falling apart. There is no air conditioning, which means it can be 100 degrees in the summer. These are conditions that can increase the risk of self-harm. The Mainframe consists of catwalks lined with cage-like cells. There are no doors on these cells, meaning there is no privacy, not even to use the toilet.

There is a $12.5 million plan to replace the Mainframe in the county’s Capital Improvement Plan, slated for 2025. The jail has 749 inmates, down from about 1,000 pre-bail reform. The new portion of the jail can house little more than half of the jail population. I hate to see money spent on new jail facilities, but it’s clear the Mainframe is at the end of its useful life.

The women’s unit is in the Mainframe. I was assured women have access to a full range of reproductive health care, including abortion and maternal health care.

Finally, the Sheriff shared the expenditures of the inmate phone call fund. I had requested to see how profits from these calls are spent. While I commend Sheriff Todd Baxter for reducing the cost of inmate calls, I do not believe the department should profit. I am still going through the records, but it’s clear the calls are funding jail operations, including employee travel to conferences and routine maintenance. I’m concerned these expenditures are not part of regular budget.

I was struck by Capt. McGowan and Ms. Kennedy’s deep knowledge of the facility and rules and regulations. I was also struck by their compassion for inmates. I thank Sheriff Baxter for arranging the visit and I look forward to continuing to monitor and assist the work of the department.