Inmates participating in a four-day-old hunger strike at the Douglas County Jail escalated their protest Friday night, flooding some cells with toilet water, a striking inmate said this morning.
"We don't just want people to hear what we're saying. We want people to act on what we're saying," said Ronald O. Edwards, who said he shares a cell with seven other inmates.
Douglas County Sheriff Loren Anderson said the flooding, which began at about 9:30 p.m., originated from one cell and caused damage to offices on the floor below the jail in the Judicial and Law Enforcement Building.
"If we can determine what (happened) and exactly who did it, we will charge them with criminal damage," Anderson said, adding that he was consulting the prosecutor's office.
Jail administrators met with striking inmates Friday to address their concerns, Anderson said.
HE SAID his staff is working to make exercise space available in the gym, used recently to house inmates because of the crowded conditions.
Administrators also have asked the kitchen staff to come up with alternatives to meals that many inmates have complained about, Anderson said.
Edwards expressed his grievances in a telephone interview from the jail this morning. He is awaiting trial in a kidnapping and aggravated sodomy case. Edwards, his seven cellmates, and about 16 other inmates in two other cells are participating in the hunger strike, he said.
"They got so mad in here that they flooded the cells trying to get the police to listen," he said. "They clogged their stools and flushed them repeatedly until the water overflowed."
The strike began Wednesday morning and grew from inmates' complaints about overcrowding, poor food, unsanitary conditions and other reported problems in the 17-year-old jail.
EARLIER THIS month, Douglas County Dist. Atty. Jerry Wells told the Douglas County Commission: "We are in a crisis situation."
Wells addressed the commission on behalf of the Douglas County Corrections Council, a group made up of representatives from each level of the county's judicial system. Its task is to recommend solutions to the commission for the overcrowding problem.
Wells cited jail populations as high as 95. Officials have listed the jail's capacity at 52 and 53.
"Actually, it's 50," Anderson said this morning.
County commissioners have asked for more study about the council's first recommendation, to lease or build a minimum security facility for inmates on work release.
Of the 73 people in custody today, 16 are in the program, working at regular jobs during the day and staying in jail overnight.
Anderson said many of the grievances of inmates are linked to overcrowding, which will require a solution beyond jail administrators. Jails throughout the state are feeling the crunch, he said.
"Obviously, the weekend is the toughest. The closest places are full . . . and we're now working on farther off places."