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Overcrowding causing major headaches for Carbon prison

Published August 17. 2012 05:02PM

Overcrowding, less revenue and tighter budgets are causing major headaches for Carbon County prison officials.

During the county prison board meeting on Wednesday, the board discussed the issue of overcrowding at the Broad Mountain prison, which in turn, is creating the need for more employees to be hired, but the low amount of revenue being collected from Live Scan services, as well as not-so-bright projections for future budgets, are causing officials to hold off on hiring the needed staff.

Warden Joseph Gross explained that as of Wednesday, the total inmate population was 185 167 in-house currently with 11 in other facilities, one in rehabilitation and six inmates on weekend sentences.

Of that total the maximum block, which has a capacity to hold 23, is at 25; the medium block has 66 inmates, four above capacity; medium 2 has 19, six over the cap; the female blocks are at capacity; and there is little room in other blocks.

The gymnasium renovation into another housing block is expected to be completed and open for occupancy in September, but a second toilet needs to be installed before inmates can be moved.

Gross then addressed the staffing situation he is facing in the administration office; as well as the kitchen.

The warden asked that the board consider combining the part-time Live Scan position and the part-time administrative aide position to create a full-time position, which would be filled by the current part-time Live Scan operator.

"The individuals that we've been bringing in as aides were not working out because of security reasons," he said, adding that he feels combining the two positions would be beneficial because the person he would put in the position already does both jobs and he has confidence in her.

Gross pointed out that the Live Scan system is not producing the revenue it was expected to produce before it was implemented, so the full-time position for a Live Scan operator, which had been proposed a few years ago, would not be feasible.

He added that he felt that the current employee in the position was doing an "outstanding job."

Commissioner William O'Gurek said that he is against the new position because of the rising costs of health care benefits; as well as financial hurdles the county must overcome with future budgets.

Robert Crampsie, chairman of the board and the county controller, said that cost is a big issue and asked if the board would like to take the information, review it and address it at its September meeting.

Commissioner Thomas J. Gerhard said that he would be in favor of the new position, but after hearing O'Gurek's reasons about budgeting, needs more time to review the material.

Mary Fairchild, administrative assistant at the prison, asked the board to please consider the request.

"In the years I've been here, we have always utilized a part-time employee that was a correctional officer that didn't have shifts in the prison," she said "This is something that has always been a problem here, but we're running into the problem that we don't have the staff to help anymore. Now it's to the point that we need help. The population when we started her in 2005 was 50 inmates. Today it's almost 200. It's getting very tight."

Gross echoed Fairchild's thoughts.

"Everyone in this room hired me to run this facility, not to do mail, not to answer the phones, not to do any of (Mary's) work," said Gross.

"I am the type of individual that when work needs to be done I will handle it, but I'm getting tired of having to do the mail on a regular basis because she doesn't have the opportunity because she's doing bills and other duties. I'm getting tired of answering my phone and getting questions from people on the outside that I don't have the answers to. You hired me to run this facility and I can't do that effectively if I'm doing everybody's else's job here.

Commissioner Wayne Nothstein then made a motion to approve the warden's request to allow him to approach the salary board and ask for the combining of the two positions.

The motion failed 3-3 after Gerhard, O'Gurek and Sheriff Dwight Nothstein cast "no" votes.

The board then approved a second motion to move the current Live Scan operator from the part-time Live Scan operator position to the part-time Live Scan operator/administrative aide position.

Following the vote, Gross asked to move a part-time cook position to a full-time position.

"Since I've been here, we have not had a full kitchen staff," he said, noting that he ran ads for two years but only received seven applications, none of which resulted in additional hiring.

Currently there are two full-time cooks, one part-time cook and one part-time cook out on leave at the prison.

Gross said that the kitchen staff has been running on overtime because the kitchen is open from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Because of this the part-time cook is working over 40 hours a week.

"He can't continue doing this because he needs benefits for him and his wife," Gross said, adding that the cook said that if not, he will need to look for a job that provides benefits. "He's a dedicated employee who goes above and beyond. He needs a full-time position because if we lose him, we have two full-time cooks and we can't run the kitchen like that."

He brought up figures that he researched if the county outsourced the meals. Outsourcing would cost between $260,000 to an excess of $370,000.

After the discussion, Crampsie said the board will look at the figures, but directed Gross to continue operations as is for now.

In other matters, a group of residents, which included retired school officials, social workers and a pastor, approached the board with a proposal to form a research committee to help lower the rate of repeat offenders.

Dr. Leta Thompson, the spokeswoman for the group, said that "they want to improve the prison, contain costs and help inmates become productive citizens of Carbon County."

"We're all aware of the high rate of recidivism here at an already crowed prison," she said.

"What we would like to do is help by volunteering our time and our expertise to research possible solutions to help this problem. Recidivism not only hurts the inmates that return to the prison and their families, it also hurts the taxpayers who wind up paying double the cost each time an inmate returns. Having a depressed economy and lower tax base in Carbon County complicates the problem," said Thompson.

"We all live in Carbon County and that means we own the problem and we should take responsibility to finding solutions," she continued. "We want to work with the warden to explore, develop and implement cost effective resources and programs that would reduce the rate of recidivism at the prison. We want to look at ongoing drug and alcohol rehabilitation services and educational services, mainly GED programming."

Crampsie thanked Thompson and the group for coming to the board and said they will be in touch.

Gross said that his main concern about the proposal is what is the cost.

"Research always ends up costing us money," he said. "Where are we going to get the money for these programs."

Crampsie agreed with Gross on how the county would pay for this.

"I was impressed with the people who are willing to volunteer and offer assistance," he said. "We may be open to assistance but we don't have the funds."

The board agreed to discuss the matter further in September.

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