Sheriff candidates discuss Hispanic inmates
The treatment of Hispanic inmates was an important topic in last month's debate between two Democratic candidates seeking to oust current Chatham County Sheriff Al St. Lawrence in the November general election.
Both candidates, McArthur Holmes and Mike Jones, have extensive backgrounds in law enforcement. Holmes retired as chief jail administrator last year after 33 years of service and Jones has 15 years of experience as a law enforcement officer.
The debate was sponsored by the members of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and the Chatham County Democratic Party and panelists included local Latina community organizer, Mariela Orellana.
According to jail statistics, the Chatham County Detention Center hosts an average of 36 to 40 Hispanic inmates each day.
Both candidates expressed their desire to provide Hispanic inmates and their families with the same level of professional service as is given to all other inmates.
The following questions and answers were included in the discussion. (Editor's note: A spokesman for St. Lawrence did not respond to a request from La Voz Latina for the Sheriff's answers to these questions.)
Q- How should the jail accommodate the non-English speaking inmate population?
McArthur Holmes: All of our procedures, our inmate manuals and publications are in both English and Spanish. As an ACA-accredited facility (American Correctional Association), we have to do what ever we can to accommodate our Spanish-speaking population and make sure they are aware of the rules and laws and everything about our operation that concerns them.
Mike Jones: We must be able to communicate with them for their safety and the safety of our staff. If elected sheriff I will make a huge effort to provide cultural diversity training.
Q- Who makes the rules for the administration of medicines for the inmates at the jail. There have been some concerns of failure to administer medications to chronic and or mentally ill inmates and concerns about the staff getting angry at inmates who ask for the medications.
McArthur Holmes- We currently have a contracted service that provides medical care for the inmates and the level of care they are bound to provide is the same level that is provided to everyone in our community. We have an inmate grievance system where inmates can file a complaint and someone from the jail administration will investigate their complaint. We also offer is that if someone is arrested they have to receive a total physical examination within 14 days of their incarceration. That is a privilege that inmates enjoy that is over and above what is required by law.
Mike Jones: As sheriff, I will make an extra effort to make sure that these inmates get the medicine they need. I have heard lots of complaints about this problem and as sheriff I will follow up on this problem.
Q- Is it possible to greatly reduce illegal immigration to Savannah by reducing the quality of life opportunities here. How would you do that?
McArthur Holmes- You have to be careful because Federal law will not allow you to mistreat anybody. Under the US Code title 42- section 1983, the code says that if you are within the jurisdiction of the United States you cannot violate a persons rights or you will be liable for your actions. And if a person is here within our legal boundaries we have to use due process and legal remedies to deal with them.
Mike- When we had the terrorist attacks on 9-11, we created Homeland Security but 11 million people still got into our country, so with these kind of things we need to make sure the federal government is doing its job.
Q- What portion of Chatham County resources should go toward helping and protecting the immigrant population compared with the resources that are needed to build up Chatham County?
McArthur Holmes- I don't think there should be any difference between how you treat one group of people versus how you treat anybody else.
Mike- I agree with what he said. That's the humane thing to do.
(Editor's Note: This edition of La Voz Latina was printed prior to the July 31st primary election.)