Are you a fan of the Netflix show "Orange is the New
Black?” Or maybe you’re like me and prefer the reality shows like “Women Behind
Bars” or “Lock Up.” There’s something interesting about the life of an inmate.
Not that we would ever want to be in their shoes, but to know what happens
inside jail is a mysterious curiosity that I love to watch from afar.
But recently, that reality show became a reality as I got to
go inside our local jail. This was a tour set up for the Idaho Crime Prevention
Association (ICPA) meeting tour by Ada County Sheriff’s Office Community
Relations Officer Nicole Carr.
Nine of us were there and ready to see the inner workings of
the county’s jail. “Nine are going in. Nine better make it out,” one member
Deputy Dixon walked us through the first of many locked
doors. First up, Dixon led us to a dark room filled with screens. Each screen
had several camera view points on them. There are more than 540 cameras on the
premises, and this room had access to all of them. The team in charge of this
room also unlocks and locks all doors, and there are plenty of them. During an
emergency, this team becomes vital, as they are the ones who can navigate
everyone to safety.
That’s a big responsibility when you’re overseeing
1,000-1,200 inmates. Most of them will be held here for an average stay of 3-6
months. While there, each inmate is classified based on level of security risk,
ranging from minimum to maximum. They wear color-coded uniforms that represent and
easily identify what classification they are. One the biggest factors that goes
into their classification is their attitude. Inmates with good attitudes may
get placed in general population. And the best-behaved inmates can even sign up
for one of four jobs: sewing or laundry for the females and cooking or cleaning
for the males.
We also got to observe the general population and medium
security area. This is where inmates can spend time during the day out of their
cells. They have free roam within the area to use the phones, watch television
or read. Also happening in general population today: haircuts.
“The haircuts are free but you’re taking a chance,” chuckled
One of the most surprising things we observed was the fact
that there weren’t any barriers between the deputies and the inmates. It’s
something they found success in getting to know their inmates. It builds a
trusting bond and has led to inmates informing deputies of intel like plans of
attacks and plans of escape.
The tour continued to the kitchen where 3,000 meals a day
are made. Again Deputy Dixon remarked, “The food is free, but you’re taking a
chance.” The kitchen is fully health-inspected and grades higher than some
By this time, I’m completely lost, and I have no clue where
I am in the maze of beige hallways and locked doors. I stay close to the group
as to not get left behind, never to be seen again. We pass a library where
inmates can check books in and out. We also had the opportunity to see the
in-house hospital where they have a full medical staff on-site along with a
dentist and mental health professionals.
The tour ended where most inmates’ stays begin, at intake.
There are several holding cells that are quiet on this Tuesday morning, but
we’re told these cells are full on the weekends. There is a room filled like a busy
dry cleaner with two rows of clear plastic bags hanging on a rotunda, filled
with the inmates’ belongings they had on them when they entered the jail.
There’s also an area where mugshots are taken and body searches are
Deputy Dixon mentioned that when he first started, there
were many things he found interesting or “crazy,” but now that he’s grown used
to the normalities of the jail, he forgets.
He walked us back to where the tour started, all nine of us