The recent physical abuse allegations levied against a handful of guards at the Jackson County jail deserve the just-announced thorough investigation by the FBI. Inhumane treatment by public employees of people locked behind bars cannot be tolerated.
County residents also deserve a rigorous examination by a new citizens commission of ways to improve operations at the detention center.
Potential solutions include higher pay to attract more qualified guards and to reduce a high employee turnover rate; stricter training; and physical upgrades to the jail.
County Executive Mike Sanders wants the task force’s report in 60 days. That’s likely not enough time to review whether the county ought to build a new jail, a possibility that ultimately deserves scrutiny.
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The FBI probe must look into whether the inmate abuse was widespread. County officials say there have been at least four cases. But if a deeper problem exists, the challenge to properly operate the jail could be larger, too.
Guard pay is not high in Jackson County, starting around $11.50 an hour. Other area counties pay better at their detention facilities. So do many private employers who hire security guards for jobs that don’t deal with violent or mentally ill prisoners.
The FBI probe and the citizens review are good starting points to clean up this mess.