Inspectors flag violations at Hampshire County jail; rehab project in the works

  • In this file photo from 2012, Patrick Cahillane, then the assistant superintendent at the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction, talks about a study done on replacement housing at the jail. Cahillane is now the sheriff. A recent state health inspection found 126 violations at the jail, 81 of which were repeat offenses mainly involving a modular building used for housing. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 2/9/2018 12:08:47 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Deteriorating conditions identified years ago in a modular building that houses inmates at the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction continue to vex jail officials, who are hopeful an upcoming $5.1 million refurbishment project could help end the problems.

An inspection conducted on Dec. 13, 2017, by the Massachusetts Department of Health found 81 repeat violations, as well as other violations not previously noted. All told, 126 violations were found at the jail, according to a spokesperson with the department.

Violations were found throughout the facility included soap scum on shower walls, dusty wall vents, lights not working, damaged and peeling epoxy flooring and damaged padding on workout equipment in the jail’s gym. Inspectors also cited dirty walls in bathroom stalls and bathroom plumbing not maintained in good repair, according to the state inspection. Most of the violations were concentrated in the jail’s modular housing units.

Hampshire County Sheriff Patrick Cahillane said this week that things such as floor separation and difficult-to-clean hand-washing sinks in some areas of the modular unit become worse over time without being replaced. The buildings were meant to be a temporary structure intended for about five years of use.

“It was built 30 years ago and modular construction is not always the best way to go for a 24-hour-a-day operation,” Cahillane said. “It’s one of those situations where it is a constant battle to keep it up.”

Some of the violations, like a dusty wall vent in a lower storage closest in the jail’s B block of its special management unit, were corrected on the day of the inspection. Other issues like soap scum on shower stalls were cleaned at a later date.

“Showers are used 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m in all of the housing units. Soap scum happens to be there sometimes depending on when an inspector is coming through,” Cahillane said. “It is a daily occurrence that we address to those things.”

The sheriff said the state does not want to build more brick-and-mortar buildings to house inmates, even though there is a need for the space. That’s why the jail is looking to rehab the modular units, he said.

“Most communities believe that people should be serviced as much as possible back in the community. That is based on many, many different ideas,” he said. “The best option at this point in time is to refurbish the modular building.”

The Department of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance is expected to call for bids for the $5.1 million refurbishment project later this month, and work could begin as early as the fall and wrap up in the first quarter of 2019, according to Cahillane.

According to the department, the project will include replacing the roof, floors and structural components, installing new finishes in the bathroom and shower areas and new drinking fountains and telephones.

In addition to correcting recurring issues, the modular units will also be brought up to code and the housing areas reconfigured. The sleeping areas of each wing will increase in size to allow for “combinations of populations,” Cahillane said.

“In one of the treatment programs, we can make a small veterans unit,” Cahillane explained. “If we wanted to do a domestic violence program, we could identify all those individuals who have serious domestic violence issues, house them all together and intensify the treatment in that area.”

The work station for the jail’s correction officers will also be relocated to allow for better supervision.

The state Department of Public Health is required by law to inspect correctional facilities twice annually and the primary purposes of these inspections is to ensure they meet standards that protect the health and safety of residents. The agency is required to report on its findings and recommendations.

State law also requires the department to make rules for correctional facilities and detention centers regarding the care and use of eating and drinking utensils, bedding, ventilation of buildings, plumbing facilities, and for the general health and safety of the prisoners.

County jails are required to submit corrective action plans within 10 days when violations are found, detailing how they plan to address them and timetables for the fixes.

Inspections of Hampshire County facility is also conducted by the Department of Corrections, the American Correctional Association, the National Commission on Correctional Healthcare as well as the Northampton Fire Department and the state building inspector.

Department of Health inspection reports dating back to 2010 are available on the state’s website. There is at least one report for each year except 2011, where there is no inspection report.

Issues with the modular units bathrooms and showers were first noted in 2012 and continued to increase in subsequent years. The December 2017 inspection had fewer repeat violations than the one conducted on May 16, 2017.

Emily Cutts can be reached at
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