Sheriff: Debris Common in Jails, but Unacceptable

By Tim Schmidt, Record Editor
Posted 11/7/19

Warren County Sheriff Kevin Harrison said any debris entering the city’s sewer system is unacceptable, but he added that only a select couple of inmates could be responsible for the items pulled …

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Sheriff: Debris Common in Jails, but Unacceptable


Warren County Sheriff Kevin Harrison said any debris entering the city’s sewer system is unacceptable, but he added that only a select couple of inmates could be responsible for the items pulled from a manhole servicing the courthouse over a recent three-week period. Photographs reviewed by Warrenton city officials last week showed a wide assortment of items that had been removed from the manhole by city crews. Some of the trash that was caught with a rake and removed by the city’s vacuum truck included clothing, potato chip bags, toothbrushes, toothbrush containers and food wrappers. After reviewing the pictures himself, Harrison was unsure what clothing was found though he acknowledged some of the food wrappers were likely commissary items purchased and flushed down toilets by inmates. “When I look at the debris, it’s unacceptable to be in a sewer system,” Harrison told The Record. “I totally agree. It needs to be filtered through a pretreatment and we’re taking steps to do that. (But) that type of debris is absolutely common coming out of a correctional facility.” Nonetheless, Harrison is glad to see a resolution reached between the city and county on the sewer dispute. Last week, Warrenton aldermen voted to allow the Warren County Commission to proceed with installing a bar screen system, a decision that should end a dispute between the two entities regarding what type of specific sewer pretreatment improvements needed to be made to block items from entering the city’s system. The county’s preferred the bar screen system to block and catch items that have been flushed down toilets in the courthouse, particularly from the jail facility. The items will then be removed by a county maintenance employee. The pretreatment project has been designed to allow for a grinder — the city’s preferred system — to be installed at a future time if the bar screen system fails to be an effective solution. While some have questioned the inmates’ ability to flush the items without reprimand, Harrison stated it’s impossible to watch their every movement due to overcrowding in the jail. Cameras also are not an option inside cells with toilets due to privacy regulations. The jail’s average daily population is 110 inmates, Harrison said, and has been as high as 140. The 14-year-old jail was built to house 96 inmates. Harrison said eliminating commissary items is not an option. Inmates are allowed to purchase those types of items, which include snacks, socks, underwear, paper and envelopes, once a week. In addition, each inmate has a tote to store those and other personal belongings, such as legal papers, mail, photographs, in their cell, Harrison said. The majority of the inmates follow the jail’s rules, he added, but that there will always be some who want to be disruptive. “The primary reason I allow (commissary items) and almost every jail in the state and the prisons allow it, it’s a tool to manage inmate behavior,“ Harrison remarked. “If you have somebody who is incarcerated and they have nothing, what leverage do I have to make them follow the rules and get along with each other and staff. If you have nothing to take away, you have nothing to bargain with. Commissary, TV, visitation, phone privileges; those are the biggest bargaining tools to manage behavior.” Harrison said he recently made changes with the jail’s food service provider to eliminate small ketchup packs from being used during meals. He said the packs were not being disposed of properly off the meal tray and instead were being disposed of in the sink. Once the sewer pretreatment project is complete, if it seems that the same type of items are being flushed by inmates on a regular basis, Harrison said restrictions will be made. “While I agree any amount into the sewer system is unacceptable, there will always be debris coming out of a jail,” Harrison commented. “Even if I stop commissary items, there is an abundance of things inmates have that could flood the sewer.” The city and county have been in a dispute on how to prevent clothing and other items from entering the city’s sewer system. In February, city workers discovered a jail jumpsuit and other garbage that apparently had been stuffed down toilets by inmates at the county jail and blocked the city’s sewer main. The city requested the sewer pretreatment improvements since every manhole overflow must be reported as a violation to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and worries that similar incidents could cause damage to the sewer system. Under city codes, it’s unlawful for any type of garbage to be discharged into the city’s sewer system.