A special investigation by the State Auditor’s Office has found about 250 instances in which time served by inmates in the Buchanan County Jail in Independence did not match their sentence, or there were no records to back up their release date.
The Buchanan County Jail Administrator and another deputy were placed on leave in May of last year and they resigned the next month. It happened after an inmate spotted out in the community and taken back into custody told investigators he’d been released to get dental care on his own and was to return to jail under “a gentleman’s agreement.”
The investigation by the State Auditor’s Office reviewed jail records over a 25 month period. It found one person was released 53 days before his or her sentence was up. There were more than 200 instances when jail time served either wasn’t recorded or was a couple of days shorter than the sentence. There were another 40 instances in which an individual was kept in jail past his or her sentence. Eight people were released a week or more early. Auditors said billing and payment records for inmates’ room and board were incomplete.
Auditors determined former Jail Administrator Russell West had improperly released individuals without a court order. West told an agent with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation he wasn’t releasing “terrible people” and some inmates were released a day or two early due to the pandemic. In one instance, the jail administrator said he’d released an individual early as a reward for helping with a “problem inmate.”
Former Buchanan County Deputy Tammy Steenhock had been in charge of billing inmates for room and board. Auditors were unable to determine the accuracy of collections because records for billing and receipts for the county jail were incomplete. Steenhock had worked in the Buchanan County Sheriff’s Office since 1996 and West, the jail administrator, had worked there since 1998.
The report from the State Auditor’s Office has been turned over to state and Buchanan County officials.