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Sunday September 21st 2014

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McNesby era in the jail described as “one of the darkest periods the history of American prisons”

While the interim County Administrator George Touart and Commissioner Chairman Gene Valentino are doing everything they can to avoid paying to hire more staff at their county jail and our daily newspaper remains upset with Sheriff David Morgan for no talking with them, the rest of the nation is focusing on the DOJ report and why Civil Rights Division ever investigated the jail.

As we have written, the Escambia County Jail under former Sheriff Ron McNesby was a horrible place (“We Told You So” ). The Atlantic refers to Escambia County in its story – “One of the Darkest Periods in the History of American Prisons.”

The problem is wide spread:

First, on May 22, the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department released a report highlighting the unconstitutional conditions of a county prison in Florida. Then, on May 30th, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit alleging atrocious conditions at a state prison in Mississippi. One day later, the feds again sounded out on behalf of inmates, this time against profound abuse and neglect at a Pennsylvania prison. Finally, last week, a federal judge issued an order describing the unconstitutional “brutality” of the prison in Orleans Parish, Louisiana.

The daily newspaper focuses on Morgan because it doesn’t want to admit how it looked the other way when McNesby was in power and helped the portly sheriff deflect any real investigation into his gross mismanagement. No, they want readers to ignore their role in the cover up.

The Atlantic article describes in depth the issues with dealing with the mentally ill in our community. When Sheriff Morgan first took office in 2009, he asked that a Byrne Grant be devoted to establishing a mental health court (“How to Mend a Broken Mind“). Commissioner Marie Young, who chaired the Public Safety Committee, instead divided the money up among Pensacola State and other law enforcement agencies. The sheriff did get help with intake, but little else.

Touart and Valentino want to dismiss the DOJ suit as factually incorrect—or place all the blame on Morgan (who DOJ actually compliments in the report). Morgan’s staff has repeatedly met with county staff trying to work out a phased approach. It’s time to focus on report and find solution–what Morgan calls a “get well plan.”

Meanwhile, the rest of the nation is watching Escambia County.