Elected officials don’t like FBI investigations happening on their watch. Bad news and embarrassing revelations likely are ahead.
Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders is now on the hot seat as federal authorities scrutinize accusations that some guards have used excessive force on inmates at the county jail. Sanders is the person ultimately responsible for making sure the county professionally operates its taxpayer-supported correctional facility.
The FBI probe will help the public evaluate how well Sanders, top jail officials and guards performed that task.
In an interview this week, Sanders made the reasonable point that — as his track record shows — he can clean up mistakes that happen on his watch. The best example is the poor property tax reassessment that occurred two years ago. It led to a much-improved process and more satisfied property owners in 2015.
Sanders also responsibly stepped forward to appoint a task force that’s reviewing how to improve jail conditions. “We’re focused like a laser on solutions,” he said.
And, in reviewing some numbers pulled together this week, Sanders argued that recent problems appear to be part of a “2015 phenomenon.”
Turnover among correctional officers had hit 100 only twice in the last 15 years — until this year when it has reached 119. Full-time new hires in 2015 are staying for fewer months than new hires did in the previous four years. An improving economy is luring guards into better-paying positions, county officials think.
The county’s portion of the jail’s budget has gone up, Sanders said, contrary to speculation that the county was scrimping on the facility. The budget has averaged more than $17 million each of the last four years, after a steady climb from $11.5 million annually a decade ago.
Sanders and his supporters hope the FBI finds that the incidents reported in the media remain isolated and confined to the actions of only a few guards.
Meanwhile, the task force likely will recommend boosting wages and guard training, solutions that Sanders sees as logical and doable.
However, the fact that prisoners have been criminally abused is not a pleasant one to acknowledge. People who are convicted or just accused of crimes should not be subjected to such treatment.
As a former prosecutor, Sanders knows this well and must remain dedicated to improving a core function of county government.