County jailer forum held

Published 9:56 am Monday, May 7, 2018

The Bell County League of Women Voters recently held a forum for candidates for Bell County Jailer.

There are five candidates for the position, but only two attended — Jason Gregory for the Democrat ballot and Gary Ferguson for the Republican ballot.

Both candidates cited past experiences, which they feel make them qualified for the job. Gregory stated that he has worked for the Bell County Court for 14 years and among his duties has been transporting prisoners to and from the Bell County Forestry Camp.

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Ferguson is the current jailer and stated he worked at various levels of law enforcement for many years.

During the forum, both were asked to address the issue of overcrowding at the Bell County Detention Center.

Ferguson agreed it was a difficult problem.

It was stated that the jail was built for a total of 59 prisoners, but in the last several years there has never been less than 100 and Ferguson has had as many as 210 prisoners at one time. He stated the issue was not just a Bell County problem, but statewide with both county and state prisons being overcrowded.

Gregory suggested that there needs to be more home incarceration for persons convicted of less serious crimes in order to reduce overcrowding situations.

Another question of the forum involved programs for inmates to better equip them to reenter society.

Ferguson described the current GED program, the Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous groups currently available in the jail as well as anger management classes.

Gregory stated he would continue those and would also try to institute a farming project utilizing unused county property.

Other questions involved the use of volunteers, protocol for transporting prisoners, advisability of tours of the jail for young people, staff turnover, medical and dental care for prisoners and psychological services for prisoners.

In closing, Ferguson stated that he wanted to continue the way he is currently going, consistently trying to improve the operation of the jail. Gregory said he anticipated making no drastic changes. He did note, however, that he would add programs such as a work release program for female prisoners.

The Bell County League of Women will host a forum for candidates for Middlesboro mayor on May 10, at 7 p.m. at the Middlesboro Library.

Ann Matheny of the Bell County Historical Society contributed to this article.