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Published: Tuesday, 10/5/2004

Contact jail visits will end on Jan. 1

BY CLYDE HUGHES
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Beginning Jan. 1, the Lucas County Sheriff's Department no longer will allow visitors to have contact with inmates during trips to the jail, Sheriff James Telb said yesterday.

The sheriff's office had been under a federal court order to provide contact visits since 1980, modifying a 1971 federal order establishing the current visiting program.

Sheriff Telb and county Prosecutor Julia Bates will talk about the changes during a news conference at the sheriff's department at 10:30 a.m. today.

During contact visits, visitors can have physical contact with inmates in a visiting area under surveillance by four deputies. Holding hands, hugs, and kisses are allowed during the visits.

Metal detectors and the routine pat-down of visitors did not stop the flow of illegal items to prisoners, the sheriff said.

In June Ms. Bates asked the federal court to allow the sheriff to stop contact visits. In her filing, Ms. Bates wrote that visitors were taking advantage of it to pass drugs and other contraband to inmates.

Last month, U.S. District Judge David Katz agreed to allow the department to end contact visits after Dec. 14.

The sheriff said it will take a little longer to make sure booths, telephones, and other measures are installed to continue noncontact visits. He said he hopes that system, in which a glass will separate visitors and inmates who will communicate to each other via telephone, will be in place by the new year.

Once the contact visits are ended, Sheriff Telb said the number of correction officers needed for visitation may be reduced.The sheriff, who is trying to keep his job against a suburban police chief and one of his former administrators in November elections, said his efforts to ask the court for relief from the order were planned 18 months ago.

Last October, convicted murderer Prentiss Williams opened fire on a corrections officer inside the jail with a gun that authorities said was passed to him by former jail counselor Marion Crosby.

No one was hurt in the incident, and Crosby was sentenced March 11 to four years in prison for bribery in connection with the case.

On Jan. 13, former corrections officer Scott Secord was sentenced to two years in prison after he was caught taking drugs to the jail during a drug sting. Lucas County Common Pleas Judge James Bates criticized the sheriff's department in that case for being "asleep at the switch" for some of the jail's security lapses.

Danny Contreras, a former captain with the sheriff's department who is running against Sheriff Telb, said he was glad that contact visits are coming to an end.

"There's been such a huge problem of drugs in the jail, and those things didn't show up in metal detectors and by other means," Mr. Contreras said.

Another candidate for sheriff, Oregon police Chief Tom Gulch, said he felt that the sheriff should have acted more aggressively to win a court order.

"My question is, why did it take so long?" Chief Gulch said. "This is something that had been promised for a long time. That would have been the first thing I would have done in my administration."

Contact Clyde Hughes at:

chughes@theblade.com

or 419-724-6095.



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