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In Our Opinion
May 20, 2004 12:00 am
Despite his lack of any public acceptance of responsibility for the sad events at our county jail, Wilson County Sheriff Terry Ashe is right about one thing: He has been saying for close to five years that overcrowding at the jail would lead to problems.
There is plenty of responsibility to be taken for the situation at the Wilson County Jail, and many members of county government should step forward and accept that responsibility.
Ashe has been sounding the alarm about overcrowding at the jail for the last five years, informing the Wilson County Commission along the way that failure to act to increase the jail's bed count to keep up with the county's growing population would be a hazard.
And though according to leading corrections experts in the state such cause and affect is not always clear for all to see, the situation Ashe predicted has come to pass.
Insurance carriers for the county have in the last year alone shelled out over a half millions dollars to former inmates and their families.
And just within the last year County Commissioners have funded a jail expansion despite years of information telling them to get the job done much sooner.
Yet, overcrowding does not explain away all of the wrongs committed by law enforcement officers working in the jail under Ashe.
Overcrowding does not account for the three guilty pleas made in federal court by former jailers, two for falsifying reports and one for assaulting an inmate. The jail is now the subject of a 15-monthlong federal investigation.
Overcrowding does not account for the death of Walter Kuntz after spending seven hours in the jail in January last year on a DUI charge. Kuntz's death has been ruled a homicide by the state medical examiner.
Overcrowding does not excuse public employees from knowing the very basic differences between right and wrong. It does not excuse violence that ends in taking a life or maiming another human being.
Inevitably, regardless of the final outcome of the federal probe, everyone with any authority over the jail whether fiscal or otherwise owns a part of the blame for the apparent horrors that happened there.
As it is a public facility, the general public that funds the jail also owns at least a piece of responsibility for what was being done of their behalf as taxpayers at the jail.
Ultimately, our entire community must accept that such things happened here in Wilson County. We must accept that fact and demand changes that ensure such mistakes are never repeated.