Jail's rules for visiting clergy prompts scrutiny - WSMV Channel 4

Jail's rules for visiting clergy prompts scrutiny

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

Every inmate in the Davidson County Jail is entitled to at least an hour of visitation a week.

“Visiting by a general rule is a privilege, not a right,” said Sheriff Daron Hall.

Different housing units are assigned different days, but if the visitor has traveled at least 300 miles, exceptions are made.

Jailhouse recordings from April reveal conversations between convicted rapist Cory Batey and his girlfriend, who is now living with his mother in Nashville.

“You may be able to come like more than everybody ‘cause you got that Houston ID. You from out of town, I forgot about that,” Batey said. “When you get out of town visits, it’s just you and them.”

“I’m not working so I can be there every day if you want me to. I can just say I’m visiting from out of town for two weeks or something, right?” his girlfriend said.

But inmates know there’s something better than an out of town ID. If the visitor is a lawyer or a member of the clergy, they don’t need to be separated by glass.

“A clergy visit would be in contact all the time, just like this in a room that’s supervised, but it’s in contact,” Sheriff Hall said.

Batey and his girlfriend discussed that in jailhouse recordings.

“Clergy’s like a minister pass. You got to go online, take a test and pay something, and then you get a clergy,” Batey said.

“Oh, should I be a clergy?” His girlfriend asked.

“That’s probably a weird question,” he replied.

The Channel 4 I-Team spoke to Hall after listening to that conversation.

“Are you aware how many clergy you have on the rolls?” asked Demetria Kalodimos.

“I had no idea what the number was when we first looked at it,” Hall said.

A total of 1,889 names are on the approved clergy list for the Davidson County Jail.

It’s no secret that just about anyone can get a certificate of ordination on the internet. Anyone can simply fill out an application and pay a fee.

It appears at least one of those nearly 1,900 jail clergy members is an online minister, and word spreads quickly behind bars.

Brandon Vandenburg, Batey’s co-defendant, brought it up on the phone with his girlfriend.

“If you do some out, you should get like an online clergy certification like Shannon has. It doesn’t take very long to get, like half an hour. I bet my mom would even pay for it,” Vandenburg said.

The I-Team asked Hall if this was a problem at the jail.

“Would it surprise you to hear inmates telling girlfriends and others, go online and get ordained and we can have looser visits?” Kalodimos asked.

“It wouldn’t surprise me. It doesn’t surprise me that they’re always looking for ways to manipulate the rules,” Hall said. “The fact that someone would take religion or faith and manipulate it is disappointing. I’m not totally surprised that it happens.”

Hall said access to spiritual advisors is vital and it’s the law. It can keep inmates more connected and calm.

Frank Gill, a local clergy member, was a character witness for Vandenburg at his sentencing.

“Know the Bible better than most people I meet. Can pray better than most people I meet,” Gill said at the sentencing hearing.

But Hall admits Metro’s clergy visitation policy is sloppy and outdated.

“The list is too broad. Obviously it had not been purged ever. We did not remove people over time and it is not an accurate depiction of people coming in and out of the system. We wouldn’t have that many people coming in and out,” Hall said.

But persons who pass through security checkpoints wearing religious attire are searched only as needed to protect safety and security interests.

“A contact visit is more threatening than a glass visit, so I’d rather err on the side of caution,” Hall said. “We surely want the individuals who are here who are oftentimes in very despondent, very difficult times to find some connection to some higher power, if you will. We’re encouraging that.

“What I want to do is fix the policy, then we’ll force the practice to meet the policy,” Hall added.

Hall said he is reconsidering the policy for visiting clergy at the jail, but said it may be difficult to vet one religious representative from another because there is no test for sincerity.

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