Morgan County is being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union for confiscating written materials mailed to a jail inmate and not notifying the sender that the mail had been intercepted.
Right now this seems a minor violation of a convoluted regulation that may not even apply to the jail. There is no indication that this is symptomatic of a larger problem, but jails are liabilities that need to be closely monitored.
Two decades ago the counties around Lake of the Ozarks got into the big-time jail business. Prior to that Miller, Morgan and Camden counties all had small jails that were essentially holding cells. Some few prisoners were held locally but most where shipped to other counties with bigger jails. The expense for housing and transportation was significant. In addition, the condition of the lake facilities was the basis for court actions that cost more tax dollars.
As an example, the old Miller County Jail was subterranean and flooded every time a cloud passed over. There was only one fix — the passage of taxes and the building of sizable local jails.
With the new jails came new problems. Holding as many as 100 prisoners for significant amounts of time is a huge undertaking. It requires manpower, money and serious administration. While the sheriff is ultimately responsible, there are a lot of people who must be on the ball every day to keep things running correctly.
Maybe in the day-to-day press of operating the Morgan County Jail the required notification of mail confiscation fell through the cracks. Mail is closely monitored; there can be a lot of it and some if it cannot be handed over to inmates for safety and other reasons. Whether there was a violation or not is no longer the issue now that the county is involved in litigation with the ACLU. That will not go away without some expenditure of time and money.
We assume that this will soon be cleared up. Morgan County Sheriff Jim Petty has a track record as a good cop and administrator. It seems likely he will turn his attention to this issue and if anything went wrong deal with it properly. That may not stop the suit but it needs doing.
The jails around Lake of the Ozarks will not get smaller as time goes by and indeed there is often talk of expansion being needed. Only careful administration and good systems can keep the lawsuits to a minimum.