Jail turning corner
Barely one year ago, the Heart of America Correctional and Treatment Center was faced with a daunting 18-month noncompliance order following a summer that included a prisoner escape and another prisoner jumping from a transport van.
The North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation issued the order in September 2013 and presented a lengthy audit of the facility, detailing many changes needed to get HACTC off the probationary period.
With five months remaining in the noncompliance order, HACTC is basically out of the dark, according to Steve Engen, DOCR director of staff and facility inspection.
Engen joined the Pierce County Board of Commissioners via teleconference at Tuesday’s regular meeting and heaped praise primarily on HACTC administrator Mike Graner.
“Since the noncompliance order last September and the change in administration, Mike has really, in my opinion, done phenomenal work,” Engen said. “He’s put the right people in place. The security audit, for all intents and purposes, they’ve completed it. The facility is in compliance with (North Dakota) Century Code and N.D. Corrections.”
Engen completed an inspection a week earlier and said the order will remain in effect for the remaining five months to ensure continued compliance. Graner was hired in the spring of 2013 to oversee the treatment center, but treatment services were discontinued in fallout of the security breaches. In October 2013 he was named director of business operation for HACTC, following terminations of Jail Administrator Mary Richard and Chief of Security Joey Cotton.
Earlier this summer, Sheriff Matt Lunde named Graner administrator of the facility – putting him in charge of daily operations though the sheriff has overall authority. The pair hired Darren Heidbreder as chief of security.
“That’s phenomenal work in 13 months,” Engen said. “A lot of things needed to be fixed. We’ve seen quality leadership from the sheriff, administrator, director of security and staff.
“I see happier staff and they feel self-assured. I think the community of Rugby is safer as well as staff and inmates.”
Graner said an increase from 20 officers to 24 has allowed the facility to have six-member teams to ensure no shift is shorthanded.
Engen credited the administration for changing the mindset of the facility from one trying to “be a big money maker.”
“We’re a necessary evil in this business, not a revenue builder,” Engen said. “Sheriff Lunde was open to putting someone in place. In my opinion, he did the right thing instead of being all-powerful.”
Engen said Leann Bertsch, Director of DCOR, is aware of the jail’s progress and said she also has “tremendous amount of respect” for Graner.
“I hope the commissioners will give Mike everything he needs to keep it rolling,” Engen said. “I wish all the facilities operated the way yours does.”
Board of Commissioners Chairman Duane Johnston (District 4) thanked Engen and complimented his department on their work, and echoed the support of HACTC administration. Johnston highlighted the strong financial situation HACTC is in compared to other jails in the state.
“Everyone’s putting up jails,” District 5 Commissioner Dave Migler said. “We have ours and it’s paid for.”
The HACTC mortgage was paid off in January 2013.
Graner described the jail, which is a separate entity from the law enforcement center (dispatch), as a self-sustaining operation. Graner shared figures with the commission including the number of Pierce County inmates in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
The jail, which has federal contracts with U.S. Marshals and Bureau of Indian Affairs, also receives boarding fees from other counties, who send prisoners to HACTC. Graner said Pierce County sent 87 inmates to the facility in 2012, 169 in 2013 and 105 through the first six months of 2014. The total boarding days for the county prisoners (not including prisoners from other jurisdictions) were 658 in 2012, 1,930 in 2013 and nearly 1,600 through the first six months of 2014. He said the costs of boarding a county prisoner at this year’s average of 15 days could cost more than $800 without medical and transportation fees.
District 2 Commissioner Mike Christenson stated that the money spent on boarding Pierce County prisoners remains in the county and helps pay for a staff of more than 30 at the county-owned HACTC.
Graner requested the commissioner look into how the surplus money can be put into the general or other county funds to benefit taxpayers.
The facility has made modest profits much of the year, including about $15,500 in August. Expenses for that month totaled $196,308.16. A Pierce County prisoner costs $55 per day, while other counties pay HACTC about $65 per day and federal contracts call for $70.
Federal agencies and other counties must pay for the transportation to and from court appearances for HACTC prisoners. At 26 Pierce County prisoners in September, Graner said the county would lose at least $260 (based on one day imprisonment for each) on top of transportation and medical fees if county prisoners had go elsewhere. He said some cases have between three and five hearings, which adds to more transportation costs.
“Ultimately, I encourage people to view this as a plus in the community,” Graner said. “We have one of the top-six jails in the state and it meets a great need.”
Graner cited the economic impact of recent property purchases of employees moving into the area for HACTC jobs, and the gas purchased and shopping done by employees who live out of town.
HACTC monthly report
In his monthly report, Graner informed the commissioners that the jail is beginning to phase out coverall prisoner uniforms for less expensive shirts and pants. The commission tabled a decision to purchase a new transport vehicle. M.J. McGuire Company placed bid of $22,500 for a 2015 Ford Expedition. D & S Motors placed a bid of $30,500 for a 2015 Chevrolet Suburban. Both companies are offering $13,000 trade for an older county transport van.
Graner and Lunde said their staff is used to the Suburban and prefer that vehicle, but Christenson said the commissioner will likely go with the Expedition to save $8,000. Graner said he would do more research and try to drive both vehicles with employee input by Oct. 21, when the committee is expected to vote on a purchase.
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