On one of the first times I met Webster County Sheriff Roye Cole, he was speaking to a community group about the failings of his jail, located on the third floor of the courthouse.
Sheriff Cole referred to the conditions in his own jail as a human rights concern. At that time he pointed out that prisoners had it much better in Communist China, and he knew this because he had been there himself and seen Chinese jails with his own eyes.
It was a matter of great urgency for Sheriff Cole to improve the standard of life for prisoners in his cramped and inadequate facility. A man of faith, Sheriff Cole speaks sincerely about the brotherhood and equality of all people, no matter how he encounters them in his professional life.
Doing the right thing matters to Sheriff Cole. On Thursday night, I got to witness the sheriff in action as he and his team of law enforcement professionals took a huge step toward fixing a wrong.
Just before midnight, prisoners exited the west entrance of the courthouse in manacles, their belongings in hand in plastic garbage bags, and they climbed into a waiting van. The van didn't take them far. Their destination was the newly completed Webster County Justice Center, catty-corner from the courthouse. They could easily have walked, but the security of the community was top of mind for the Sheriff’s Office.
I had toured the jail one last time the day before the prisoner transfer, and what a difference. The new jail offers no frills for the prisoners, but it is clean and secure, and prisoners are held in two-person cells that open at approved times into a day room in a unit known as a pod. The place is well lit and equipped with excellent ventilation, and five sets of pods ensure a smaller population that is easier to control. There is a central monitoring area, plus a rec room where prisoners may get some exercise and natural sunlight.
It is important to remember that many different types of people are incarcerated in any jail. There are those who have committed the ultimate crime of murder, as well as those who are guilty of lesser crimes, such as property offenses. But bear in mind that plenty of the people who spend time in jail are completely innocent of any transgression. You could end up there yourself, whether through your own misdeed or someone’s misrepresentation or mistake.
We are all presumed innocence until proven guilty in a court of law, and many of the prisoners in any jail are going to be found not guilty and then released.
Innocent or guilty, we are all deserving of basic rights, and the new jail helps to ensure that these are met. What’s more, many layers of security help to ensure that jail personnel are safer from harm.
The Webster County Justice Center is a triumph of planning by Sheriff Roy Cole, jail administrator Tina Davis and other Webster County officials, most notably the board of commissioners. I will sleep better knowing that justice is being humanely served.