Chesterton Tribune


Porter County considers terminating deal to house federal prisoners at jail

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Space issues in the Porter County Jail have not gone away but a few beds might be opening up as the County Commissioners and Sheriff David Lain are mulling the possibility of doing away with holding state and federal prisoners.

During a discussion regarding the purchase of a new electronic medical records system for the jail at Tuesday’s County Commissioner meeting, Commissioner President, John Evans, R-North, brought up his wish to review the costs or benefits and associated with housing Department of Correction inmates versus holding county offenders only.

Evans said holding the prisoners means the County will have to make upgrades, which may prove costly, in order to keep receiving payments from the federal level for holding those prisoners.

“It’s not beneficial if it is not making us money,” Evans said.

Sheriff David Lain said he had been on the phone with the U.S. Marshal Service about the possibility of canceling the contract but at the moment he’s unsure what the ramifications would be. There may be penalties, he said, and the county could be made to pay back its $1.3 million “signing bonus.”

He said the county signed the 16-year contract to house federal and state prisoners around 2001 when the current jail opened. Originally the county was given $43 per day for each prisoner and since the most recent negotiation two years ago, the county receives $56 per day for each one. With 19 DOC prisoners in the jail per month, Lain said the County receives roughly $388,000 per year.

The number of federal and state prisoners has decreased partly because more courts are allowing convicted persons to utilize community PACT and home monitoring programs.

But dropping the contract could mean more beds available at the overcrowded PCJ, allowing some more time before the County would need to open and staff the unused third pod, which is estimated would cost around $1.7 million and would have to be paid from the County’s own pocket.

Lain has doubts there would be any savings and said the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) recommended to him that there be access to as many beds as possible. “I think we need to open (the pod),” he said.

Both he and Evans agreed to look at all sides of the issue.

Meanwhile, the Commissioners voted in favor of purchasing a new electronic medical records system for the sheriff’s department. Using funds from jail bond refinancing, the not-to-exceed $45,000 contract with CorEMR of Utah will include one-time installation and training.

Lain said the EMR is be a “stand-alone system” and is compatible with the Tiburon system for internal record keeping which would be useful should the jail ever switch providers.

“I think it will be a good fit,” Lain said, adding that the system has been recommended by the NIC. He hopes to have the system ready to use before the County chooses a new medical team for PCJ to clear away some backlog that has built up.

A total of nine bids were received Tuesday for the jail medical staffing, the sheriff’s department will review each one and make a recommendation to the Commissioners at their Feb. 19 meeting.

The expired contractor, Advanced Correctional Healthcare, is continuing to provide care on a per month basis until a new provider is set up. Lain had said he would like to hire 13 more nurses and physicians, some which would be shared with the Juvenile Service Center. In addition to medical care, Lain said the jail hopes to introduce programs to improve the mental health of the inmates.

Later on Tuesday, the County Council approved hiring a nursing director who will also be in charge of quality assurance (see related story). The other nurses will be contractual employees hired by the new provider, Lain said.

In another jail-related matter, the Commissioners renewed an agreement with Porter-Starke Services for the chemical dependency program although the fund being used to pay the amount of $136,000 per year has been declining due to a change in policy.

The fund is paid through $25 fees for each arrestee when they are booked at PCJ, but was changed last year to reflect that the fee will not be charged until conviction or refunded if the arrestee is not guilty, as directed by the state.

The money for the contract will be taken out of an alternative fund until the booking fees can catch up, Lain said.




Posted 1/23/2013