Elaine Little goes out on a high note
When Elaine Little retires at end of the month from a 36-year career, she goes out on a high note. Little is the administrator at the Heart of America Correctional and Treatment Center in Rugby, a position she has held for the last six years of her career.
Little did she know, when she graduated from Dickinson State University in business administration and accounting, that she would spend a good part of her adult life affecting the lives of those who are incarcerated for one reason or another.
Her career started out on track, as her first job out of college was in the fiscal department of the North Dakota Legislative Council. She worked there for six years before accepting a position with the North Dakota Office of Management and Budget.
Nothing unusual there. Later, Little became the fiscal director who oversaw a variety of institutions such as The School for the Blind, Grafton State School, the correctional institution in Bismarck, and the list goes on. She said she learned much about the management of various institutions.
In 1989, Governor George Sinner asked her to be the administrator for the newly created Department of Corrections. She accepted and her career turned down a different path from where it had been going. Or maybe it had all been stepping stones for her future.
“The department of corrections staff are a special breed and many of them will be my life-long friends,” said Little, explaining that the people who work with the prison system have much compassion and special gifts.
Just as she was getting ready to retire the first time from her 30-year career, someone from Rugby called her and asked if she would be willing to put off retirement for a few years and come and head the new regional prison that had been built here. At that time, the facility was called the North Central Correctional and Rehabilitation Center (NCCRC).
It was the fall of 2005, and the person who called her said, if she would be willing to come she could use whatever philosophy she thought was appropriate for the facility. It was an offer she couldn’t refuse.
The new correctional facility in Rugby opened its doors on September 6, 2006. But before that could happen, Little had to write all of the policies and procedures that would be used, hire staff to work there, set up her office and be ready for opening. She had one year to accomplish all of that, and she did.
“After I hired the Chief of Security, Joe Cotton, he hired the correctional officers,” said Little. “It was easier after that.”
It was a struggle at first, as the facility was projected to be 90% full all of the time and it wasn’t.
“We couldn’t pay the mortgage,” said Little.
The facility had been financed through USDA Rural Development and three Rugby banks. In 2009, the facility was sold to the Rugby Job Development Authority (JDA) for its appraised value of $2,075,000. The JDA then leased the facility to Pierce County, which manages the facility with a board of directors. At that point, the name of the facility was changed to HACTC.
After this and a few structural changes, the facility began increasing its inmate population and, under Little’s leadership, started making money to support itself.
Little is credited by the community of Rugby with taking on a huge challenge in running the facility and guiding it through to where it is today. It has been operating in the black for the last couple of years.
Little is small in physical stature, but she said she has never been afraid of the prisoners.
“The majority of prisoners are not dangerous people,” said Little. “Of course, there are always a small group who are dangerous.”
She said she got to know many prisoners over her long career as part of her job. On the treatment side of the center, the inmates are usually court-ordered to participate in a 90-day Best Practices treatment program.
Little said she has seen people learn what they needed, to live better lives on the outside.
“I’ve really enjoyed my career,” said Little. “It is a career that gave me the opportunity, through developing philosophy and programs, to impact people’s lives that other careers wouldn’t have given me.”
“The facility has been good for the town and good for me,” added Little.
She has sold her house and is moving back to her home in Bismarck. Her two children and three grandchildren live there and are waiting for grandma to be more active in their lives. As for Little, she is looking forward to spending quality time with her family, especially the grandchildren, who hold a special place in her heart.
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