Stoddard County Jail propositions pass after Missouri Primary election

Stoddard County sheriff calls aging jail, understaffing a "public safety issue"
Jessica Ellsworth steps over fellow inmates to get out of her cell (Source: KFVS)
Jessica Ellsworth steps over fellow inmates to get out of her cell (Source: KFVS)
Stoddard County Sheriff Carl Hefner talks about conditions in his jail (Source: KFVS)
Stoddard County Sheriff Carl Hefner talks about conditions in his jail (Source: KFVS)

BLOOMFIELD, MO (KFVS) - Both Propositions 1 and 2 passed in the Missouri primary election on Aug. 7. Sheriff Carl Hefner made a statement following the passing of the propositions.

"I would like to thank the citizens of Stoddard county on getting prop 1 and 2 passed," said Sheriff Hefner. "And would also like to recognize the employees of Stoddard co sheriffs office for staying with me and believing in the citizens of the county to get this passed.  They realized it was a public safety issue.  I personally take no credit for getting these propositions passed, it was the citizens of Stoddard county recognizing the need for it by 59 percent on Prop 1 and 56 percent on prop 2.  We can now hire and retain well-qualified personnel and provide them with the equipment they need to do their job. As well as, renovating and constructing a new jail that will meet the needs of Stoddard county for years to come."

Sheriff Hefner told us back in July that the Jail was in dire need of renovation and the department was understaffed. There are roughly 840 square miles in Stoddard County, Missouri from Advance to Puxico, Bloomfield to Bernie. And just four deputies to cover it all.

Inside the county jail, 83 inmates squeeze into space designed to hold 28.

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"We are out of sight, out of mind in here.  Definitely," Stoddard County inmate Jessica Ellsworth said.

In order to talk to Ellsworth, we have to watch her step over her cellmates just to get into the hall.

"There are so many strong personalities here that we argue", Ellsworth said. "Constantly."

It doesn't help that there are 25 women in an area designed to hold 10.

"My mom says just get away from them," Ellsworth added. "But there's no way to get away from them, at all."

As Sheriff Carl Hefner shows, it's just as bad on the men's side, where a day room becomes a crowded group cell.

"When we started getting so crowded, we had to move bunks in here for people to sleep on", Hefner said. "But as you can see, there's not enough space there. So a lot of them are sleeping on the floor."

Hefner gave us a tour through the 35-year-old building.

"Right now, this door should be locked," said Hefner. "It should be locked.  It's not locked. This is the kitchen. The trustees have about five, six feet to work in. These are the original showers that came in here.  And you can look in there and see the conditions. We've actually had to put chains and padlocks on these doors because the control panel out here that the corrections officer would normally use to automatically open and close the doors doesn't work."

"In a perfect world, we try to get to everything as soon as possible", Deputy John Atkinson said.  He is one of four officers stretched across Stoddard County.

"From midnight to eight in the morning you're usually solo", he explains.  "By yourself.  So, depending on the distance you've got to drive and the situation you've got when you get there, with no back up sometimes it's - it gets to be a little bit stressful."

Hefner admits he's four deputies short right now.  And with starting pay around $11 an hour, it's tough to attract new ones.

"That's why it's very important that we try to get this passed so we can get back to full staff," Hefter added. "And supply the deputies with the tools they need to do their job and protect the citizens of Stoddard County. It's definitely a public safety issue for all of us."

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