Surveillance system will improve security, efficiency of jail facility

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
amorris@starhq.com

   The addition of a new video surveillance system to the Carter County jail will serve to protect the law enforcement officers and inmates as well as lower costs for the county, Sheriff John Henson said.
   Installation of the surveillance system, which has been in the planning for approximately a year and was approved by the finance committee about six months ago, began last week and should see completion by the end of February or early March. "Probably within the next 30 days I'll have the whole system up and running," Henson said.
   As part of the system, video cameras will be placed outside the building which houses the jail as well as in the day rooms in the jail itself and in hallways. "It will be a big asset to the building," Henson said.
   The cameras will record footage 24 hours a day, Henson said, and two monitors will be located inside the facility which show live feed from the cameras. One monitor will be located in the dispatch room and the other will be located in the jailer's office.
   "In my opinion, it's one of the best things we've done to the jail since I've been here," Henson said.
   The system will help increase the safety of Sheriff's Department employees while they are on duty in the building. "At night, the dispatcher can't see what's going on outside the building," Henson said. "You've got to know what's going on around the building."
   Inmates at the detention center will also be helped by the system. According to Henson, the surveillance equipment will help improve safety in the jail by keeping the jailers better aware of what is going on around them. "There is no way two or three jailers can keep an eye on all the cell blocks 24 hours a day. But, with these cameras, we can do that," Henson said. "If someone is fighting back in the cell block, we can be on it in less than a second."
   In the past, inmates sneaking contraband in through the windows of the jail by lowering string to people on the sidewalk has posed a problem at the facility. Henson has hopes that the new system will alleviate that problem. "If someone were to try to sneak something upstairs through the windows, there will be cameras there to see it," he said. "Then, all the dispatcher has to do is call one of the road officers to come in and they've got them."
   Last week, CCSD deputies arrested a subject who was trying to sneak items up to an inmate that included three pieces of hacksaw.
   In addition to decreasing crime and increasing security, Henson anticipates that the new system will also help to cut expenses. "I feel this video surveillance equipment will save the taxpayers money in the long run due to lawsuits," he said. It will also cut down on the required manpower by allowing the jailers to watch over the entire jail facility from their desk.
   The new system cost approximately $18,000, Henson said, adding that he thought it was well worth the price. "If you have one accident up there, it will cost you more than that," he said.
   Henson stated that since he took office six years ago, he has been working to increase safety in the Sheriff's Department. "When I first came here, there was not a car with a video camera," he said, adding that now all but four or five of the patrol cars are equipped with video surveillance equipment.
   Also in the last six years, the Sheriff's Department has seen the installation of video surveillance equipment in the holding room for persons brought in on alcohol charges as well as the suicide watch cell. According to Henson, the installation of those cameras has helped to save two lives. "Due to the camera, the jailer was able to see what was going on and got there before the person harmed themselves," he said.