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Democrat Photo by Jeanne Sager

THERE’S NO ENCLOSURE, not even much of an overhang, to protect visitors at the Sullivan County Jail who sometimes wait for hours in the bitter cold to visit their loved ones.

Treated Like

By Jeanne Sager
MONTICELLO — December 23, 2005 – Lucilla Calkin isn’t so sure the Sullivan County Legislature knows who the criminals are in their county.
Eight years ago, Calkin went to the Legislature after visiting the Sullivan County Jail in Monticello to see son, Tom, who was incarcerated.
It was a chilly day in late February, and Calkin spent 45 minutes shivering in the cold in Monticello.
She wasn’t the only one – as usual there was a line of people there for visiting hours.
And like Calkin, they were forced to wait outside, subject to the elements.
Just eight prisoners are allowed to meet with visitors at any one time during the jail’s visitation time.
Inmates are entitled to two one-hour visits each week, with a maximum of two adults and two children allowed to visit a prisoner at any one time.
But when the doors open, it’s first come, first serve.
The folks on line to see the first eight prisoners get in.
The rest wait in the cold.
The first time it happened to Calkin, she was outraged.
“We’re not the criminals here,” she said.
So she petitioned the Legislature.
And they promised things would change, Calkin said.
“They promised heat and an enclosed area.”
This month, Tom was sentenced to jail again. And, “for peace of mind,” Calkin was back out in Monticello waiting on line to see her son.
Eight years after she got a promise from the Legislature, Calkin said nothing had changed.
In the frigid days of early December, she waited on line with a pregnant girl who had a small toddler shivering as he waited to see Daddy.
That woman didn’t make it in during the morning round of visiting hours, Calkin said. So she waited through lunchtime and went in during the afternoon visiting period.
“Me, I wouldn’t bring my baby, but if your son is 4 years old, and he says ‘I want to see Daddy,’ what do you do?” she said.
Calkin said she waited too, only to find out when she got to the front of the line that her son wasn’t even in the jail at the time.
“He was in Liberty court,” she said with a sigh of disgust.
But there was no way to know that, no way for anyone on line to know if they’ll be let in.
There’s no signup, Calkin said, no appointment book. And if an inmate hasn’t used up their allotted two hours of visiting time, chances are their visitor is going to be in there for a long time.
So the first eight groups to go in could spend the entire morning or afternoon visit inside – while everyone else stands in the cold, waiting.
Sullivan County Legislature Chairman Chris Cunningham said that’s exactly why the Legislature has plans to build a new jail.
“We know there’s a lot of issues surrounding the county jail, we’re certainly open to revealing the whole situation over time,” he said. “We’re looking forward to building a new jail which will alleviate some of those concerns.”
Although Cunningham was on the Legislature at the time Calkin made her first complaints, he said he hasn’t been approached about this particular problem.
His suggestion?
She should come back and make a presentation to the Legislature, he said.
“Maybe there are some ways to alleviate those concerns,” Cunningham noted. “We’re certainly open to having that conversation.”
Another figure who was present at the time Calkin made her first complaints, outgoing Sheriff Dan Hogue, did not return a number of phone calls for comment on the situation.
Incoming Sheriff Mike Schiff said he’s heard rumblings of concerns with the visitation procedure, but it’s all come “thirdhand.”
Without all the details, Schiff said he’s reluctant to make any public statements about the current situation or any plans he has for visitation.
“It doesn’t sound reasonable on the surface,” Schiff said. “But you find out there’s always two sides to a story . . . maybe the cost of correcting it is so astronomical, and that’s why it hasn’t been done.”
Now that he’s been made aware of the situation, Schiff said it will be on his agenda to be reviewed.
“Everybody’s entitled to visitation,” he said.
For now, visitation is still limited to a morning period of 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and an afternoon period of 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. each day from Tuesday through Saturday. Mondays are limited to legal visits.
To gain entrance to the jail, visitors must line up – in the cold – outside the jailhouse on Bushnell Avenue in Monticello.

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