MARSHALL COUNTY, AL (WAFF) - Marshall County Sheriff Scott Walls is speaking out for the first time since a riot broke out at the jail Wednesday. The riot broke out during a shakedown where deputies were searching inmates for contraband.
That happened two days after a former jailer was arrested for allegedly providing a cellphone to an inmate. Images of other contraband, including drugs inside the jail, appeared on social media.
Walls said this is not the first riot to happen at the Marshall County Jail. Two others happened during the 1990s that were far more dangerous. One riot in 1995 involved all of the inmates stripping their clothes off and lighting them on fire inside the jail.
The sheriff said Wednesday's riot involved about 60 inmates, not all 275 inmates in the jail.
He said these shakedowns are routine and occur on a weekly basis
Walls said it is not uncommon for them to find contraband during these routine inmate shakedowns. Banned items have been a problem for decades. He said deputies hope they have everything out of the jail for now, but they will continue to search for more.
"We would certainly hope so. That is the only way I can answer, I can't guarantee you that," said Walls. "You know, this is a jail. There's a lot of people in here and a lot of people come in here and out of here. Those searches are done to keep the contraband out. We're going to keep doing the searches. We're going to try to control that as well as possible. But, no, I wouldn't guarantee you there is not something in this jail now, but we're going to keep searching and find it in this jail if it is."
After a former jailer was arrested Monday for providing a cellphone to an inmate, the sheriff's office stated they believe other employees at the jail may have smuggled contraband in too. They are currently investigating those employees and say criminal charges could be forthcoming.
Walls said he is relieved nobody was hurt Wednesday. However, he doesn't see the situation here at the jail improving without changes at the state and local level.
"What has happened in this particular situation from yesterday is happening all across Alabama and in every jail. This is the perfect storm. Prison reform, state of Alabama Board of Corrections pushing state inmates back into county jails," said Walls.
Walls said because of prison reform, the jail is overcrowded, dangerous, and difficult to manage. Issues with funding from the County Commission is also creating staffing problems.
"This is not the Commission's fault, not that they don't have any money, but they've got to address how to get money. That's their job," said Walls.
Walls said he's been asking for assistance with staffing problems for 12 years but has yet to receive it.
Another problem they face is retention of employees at the jail, which he attributes to the low pay scale.
"Employees here at this county that start at this jail could make more money at Publix or your local supermarket," said Walls.
Walls said until the issue of more state inmates coming into county jails is discussed, the tax base in Marshall County will continue to be stretched out and funding for the jail will continue to be a problem.
The sheriff said they will keep asking for staffing support until his term ends.
"You know, we need enough staff to run this place until it's somebody else's job. and we're gonna keep asking for that staffing and try to get them in here," added Walls.
Walls said the sheriff's office is committed to enforcing the law in Marshall County until next January, when Sheriff-elect Phil Sims takes office.
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