"It's just really hard on the old jail, and the truth is we have a younger, more aggressive population," Gooch told Lincoln County magistrates Tuesday during his quarterly report. "... We're repairing something every day."
Inmates recently started a small fire in the maximum security area. They have been known to chip at the walls in attempts to escape. Three inmates were briefly at large after they cut a hole through the recreation area fence. And numerous fights have broken out.
Jailer wants no more than 100 inmates
"It's very stressful" on the guards, said Gooch. He would like to see no more than 100 prisoners at the jail. "That's about the limit of my comfort zone."
This morning the jail held 112 after five state inmates were transferred in an effort to increase security and lower the population.
"We need to be in the 95-100 range," Gooch said.
During a population influx, every prisoner is affected. Mats are placed on the floor when the beds run out and tight quarters create personality clashes.
"Very stressful," echoed inmate Tracy Whittler. She now has 21 roommates, some of which sleep on mattresses on the floor.
"Some people like to stay up all night, where I have to get up and work," said Whittler, who volunteers to work in the courthouse. "You just have to adapt to different personalities, just different schedules."
Prisoner's incentives also suffer. Telephone and recreation time is limited, and visiting hours stretch past closing time.
Programs such as Bible study, church, GED classes, Alcoholics Anonymous and drug recovery classes are also scaled back. With only one room to serve as a base for every extra-curricular program at the jail, there just isn't the space for the meetings or the time for harried guards to shuttle inmates there and back.
"You have limited staff, and if you have an emergency, you have to allocate staff to that instead of running your daily activities," Gooch explained. "It's like a chess game, you just have to decide what piece I'm going to move where."
Jail being upgraded to increase security
To increase security, the jail is being upgraded with better cameras, razor wire around the recreation area and modified doors and locking mechanisms.
But the root of the problem persists, said Gooch. The building was never intended to be used as a jail and overcrowding just aggravates the security design flaws.
The facility was built in 1941 as an office building and was converted into the detention center in 1983.
Until only recently, the outdoor recreation area had no roof, no razor wire and a cinder-block wall that created a ledge for prisoners to stand on while they cut through fencing above. The concrete walls of the jail itself are not reinforced throughout with steel rods, like the new jails, and are soft enough some prisoners have made attempts to dig out or remove cement blocks to escape.
There is a lack of storage room for inmate's personal effects, so their street clothes end up in plastic bags piled on a table or the floor.
Old conduits and electrical boxes, long since abandoned, still line the halls and outside of the facility, providing inmates with potential weapons and hiding spots for contraband. The panels of a lowered ceiling can be lifted easily to create hiding places for inmates to stash drugs or weapons they receive from visitors. Random holes in the walls, exposed I-beams and empty electrical boxes all provide inmates an opportunity to hide a straw-full of cocaine or a paper clip that can easily become a handcuff key.
"We can't walk through any area of the jail where I can't show you things that aren't right," said Gooch. "Its not for lack of work, we work on it every day. Literally it never ends."