Marshall County grand jury checked jail conditions in April, gave glowing review

GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. -- Our taking action investigation into the Marshall County Jail has revealed disturbing images of inmate behavior, apparently filmed by inmates. We’ve found that the jail is understaffed and we’ve reported on a jailer’s arrest.

And now, we’ve found some puzzling information about jail oversight.

In Alabama, county jails are supervised and run by their sheriffs.

Alabama law also has a safeguard, it directs county grand juries to check jail conditions on a regular basis.

But, the last Marshall County grand jury review in April commended the Sheriff for his operation of the jail.

Attorney General Steve Marshall was the district attorney in Marshall County and he’s familiar with how the grand jury jail reviews work.

“When a grand jury goes, it’s not like a secret inspection,” Marshall told WHNT News 19 Thursday. “It’s one that they know they’re coming and they have an opportunity to go in. One of the things I always encouraged a grand jury to do is to go in the cells …  be able to look in the kitchen itself … look at the type of food that’s being served.”

Marshall said the point isn’t to ensure a country club atmosphere, but a jail that is safe and secure.

It’s a regular practice, but WHNT News 19 reviewed the most recent grand jury report, dated April 5. It didn’t find any problems at the jail.

“We have toured the Marshall County Jail and find the facility well managed and properly operated,” the grand jury wrote. “We commend the Sheriff, the Warden and his staff for their efforts to properly maintain the jail, and we found the prisoners to be disciplined and regimented.”

That’s not WHNT News 19’s investigation has found. And the report isn’t consistent with Wednesday’s shakedown effort at the jail by the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office and other area law enforcement agencies that were called in.

But there may be a simple reason for that -- grand jurors don’t see everything, according to Marshall County District Attorney Everette Johnson

Johnson spoke to WHNT News 19 Thursday and offered a further description of how the grand jury’s jail investigation works.

"The grand jury does not go in the jail cells nor the common area -- unless a member of the grand jury requests to see the area,” Johnson said. “The grand jury can request to see the different areas inside the jail right before they get inside the jail.

“The district attorney's office has to tell the sheriff's when the grand jury is going to come through the jail, so they can be staffed for the safety of the 18-member grand jury.

So, it’s up to the grand jury, which is made of local citizens called to service like any other jury -- to decide what they need to see in regard to jail areas.

It is important to note, the district attorney's office said the grand jury members would never inspect an inmate nor his/her cell close enough to find contraband. It is not up to these members to find illegal items and do something about it.

We’re told grand jury members have about an hour to do the inspection.

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