Study prompts changes at jail: Plans affect staffing, operations of county facility
Editor's note: This is the first of two stories on a study conducted on the Stutsman County Correctional Center.
A series of sweeping changes to staffing and operations has begun at the Stutsman County Correctional Center, aimed at saving taxpayer dollars, reducing county liability and improving employee safety.
The changes are based on recommendations from a staffing analysis and operational assessment report by jail consultant David Prachar.
"We're trying to take it in bits and pieces. The pure volume of recommendations that were made, it's impossible to incorporate them all at the same time," said Casey Bradley, auditor/chief operating officer for Stutsman County.
The magnitude and number of changes --everything from the number of sergeants to the style of the inmate handbook -- have some jail staff members concerned.
"It really does change the way we do things. Some are good (changes)," said Sgt. Shane Drenth, who has served in Stutsman County Corrections for about 17 years. "With every change, there's positives and negatives. Change is hard sometimes."
In the red
Prachar, a former jail administrator in St. Louis County, Minnesota, was paid $15,000 to do the study, after the SCCC was found to have a massive budget deficit.
The jail was running $440,000 in the red, Bradley said.
"Obviously, we couldn't keep operating on those types of deficits," he said.
Projected revenue for the jail for 2012 was $2.42 million, with expenditures projected at $2.55 million, meaning that a $126,630 deficit had been approved, but the actual deficit was set to be worse.
There were a number of factors involved in the deficit, and the county has already begun efforts aimed at stemming the flow of red ink -- and local taxpayer dollars.
"We're looking at a substantial savings," said Ramone Gumke, a member of the Jamestown City Council and president of the Law Enforcement Center Governing Authority Board, which governs the SCCC. "And jails don't make money. Unfortunately, that's one of those things that's always going to cost you, to house your prisoners."
The SCCC houses federal inmates and inmates from surrounding counties in exchange for fees from those governmental entities. However, the SCCC hadn't increased its charges for that since 2005, even though its costs had risen, Bradley said.
In addition, the budgeted revenues from those fees were listed as higher than they actually were, so Stutsman County received less money per inmate than it had budgeted for.
Raising the rates for local inmates from $55 to $60 per day, and for federal inmates from $60 to $65 per day is set to erase about $85,775 of the SCCC's deficit, Bradley said.
In addition, SCCC outsourced its food service to CBM Foods, starting in March. Now meals cost around $2.39 per meal rather than $4.51 per meal, though costs do vary based on the number of inmates served at a time.
The jail budgeted about $190,000 for food service next year, rather than the $300,000 or more it would have paid otherwise, Bradley said.
Prachar recommended many staffing changes, and Stutsman County officials have created a new staffing plan based on his recommendations.
The SCCC had budgeted $1.19 million for wages in 2012. Its 2013 budget was initially for $1.14 million in wages.
With the changes spurred by Prachar's recommendations, that number will be reduced to $1.02 million -- despite several promotions entailing additional pay and a $1 shift differential for people working the night shift.
That will be another $170,000 the county can save from the SCCC budget.
Some money will be saved by creating more full-time positions rather than relying so much on part-time workers, Bradley said.
"We haven't been filling positions. Through attrition, we've achieved a lot of (cost reduction)," Bradley explained. "The goal here isn't to fire people."
In fact, the county is working to hold on to its current employees.
"We've got good people over there. We're not dissatisfied with any of the employees," said Mark Klose, county commissioner and member of the Law Enforcement Center Board.
In his report, Prachar made no negative comments about SCCC staff, and though he recommended many organizational and process changes, he noted he had found the facility to be clean, quiet and safe during a tour.
"The corrections staff does a phenomenal job. Our COs (correctional officers) and our sergeants are exceptional. They do a great job," Bradley said. "I know that changes are hard but at the end, it'll be good for them."
To that end, the SCCC is seeking to promote internally for several new sergeant positions as well as the deputy administrator position that opened up after a retirement. If the positions cannot be filled with internal positions, the county will look elsewhere.
Prachar's plan provided the springboard for many of the changes the SCCC will implement over the next year, but his recommendations will not be adopted wholesale.
Instead, Bradley, Jail Administrator Tracey Trapp and Trapp's sergeants have made some adjustments to Prachar's staffing plan to create an SCCC staffing plan of their own. The changes they made were discussed with Prachar, too, Bradley said.
The jail staff has already begun working on some of the changes, defining tasks and duties in preparation for the reorganized staffing plan, and the SCCC is hoping to begin its training plan soon as well, though it might take six months to get the program up and running.
Bradley said implementing all the changes will take a lot of work, particularly for jail administration staff and sergeants, and it could take a year or two to complete.
"While they're doing all these changes, they're still going to be watching the inmates," Bradley said.
Sun reporter Kari Lucin can be reached at 701-952-8453
or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org