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Jail under scrutiny

By Staff | Sep 6, 2013

Chris Bieri/PCT The North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has issued a Noncompliance Order to the Heart of America Correctional and Treatment Center

The North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has issued a Noncompliance Order to the Heart of America Correctional and Treatment Center after the facility had an prisoner escape and a prisoner jump from a moving transport vehicle in the span of seven weeks.

Both Jail Administrator Mary Richard and Director of Security Joey Cotton were placed on 30-day paid leave while the DOCR completed an audit of the facility from Sept 3-6.

The HACTC must comply with all of the recommendations of the audit and will be under the Noncompliance Order for 18 months.

As part of the order, HACTC must verify that all staff have completed necessary training, make changes to the outdoor recreation area within 10 days, and must inform all current and prospective government agencies housing prisoners at the facility of the order.

Steve Engen, Director of Staff Development & Facility Inspection for the DOCR and other law enforcement officials met with the Pierce County Commission on Sept. 3, outlining the reasons for the Noncompliance Order and to go over a possible roadmap to a better facility.

The first major violation was the escape of Wesley Brown III on June 21. Engen showed footage of Brown throwing clothes and a blanket over the fence, then climbing the fence in the recreation yard and getting on the HACTC roof.

The DOCR’s report said that a number of HACTC policies were not followed, including patting down the inmates going in and out for recreation, as well as doing a prisoner count before and after recreation. He said HACTC staff also failed to do a security round in the yard during the recreation period.

According to the report, on May 29, Richard had notified staff in briefing notes to pat down all inmates going outside for recreation, and other briefing notes also stated Brown had told an informant he was planning an escape during outdoor rec.

During the Aug. 7 transfer of a prisoner, HACTC also failed to follow policies, according to the report.

The door back of the transport van was able to be unlocked and opened from inside, where the prisoner was able to jump out of the moving vehicle and severely injure himself.

The report also stated that HACTC Maintenance Supervisor Ron Biggs had been transporting prisoners since 2007, but told investigators he was unaware there was a law regarding non-law enforcement personnel transporting inmates.

Pierce County Sheriff Matt Lunde, who by law is in charge of the HACTC, spent part of last week at the Cass County Jail to get some advice on how to help bring the facility up to compliance.

Lt. Andrew Frobig from the Cass County Jail also returned to Rugby to assist in the effort.

While Frobig said a culture has developed to do things outside of policy, he also noted some positives.

“It’s a lot better than what I thought,” Frobig said. “There’s a lot that they’re doing well. There’s a lot of trained people. I’m satisfied with a lot of the things I’ve seen.”

Engen said the DOCR will assist in getting HACTC back on the right track. Frobig and Engen said they had faith that Lunde could put the measures in place to return the facility to compliance.

“I believe this facility can get back to where it needs to be,” he said. “Complacency is the No. 1 thing that gets a jail in trouble. (The staff) do the same thing every day at the same time with people who they spend more time with than their families. It’s not our goal or our role to make things difficult (in the return to compliance).”

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