Published 11:15 am Saturday, April 3, 2010
With Mower County’s new jail and justice center slowly taking shape, staff members are hard at work adapting the jail to fit into the new building.
As the calendar turns to spring, Mower County is a season closer to the completion of the new Mower County Jail and Justice Center. Even after the jail is completed around June, jail staff still has a long road to follow before moving inmates into the cells.
“It’s going to take time after completion to be able to actually function,” said Mower County Coordinator Craig Oscarson.
A transition team of about six people is responsible for one of the most challenging parts of the move: preparing for daily operations in the new jail. The transition team will need to update most aspects of operating the jail, like the jail’s mission statement, jail procedures, jail scheduling and the jail’s chain of command, said Bob Roche, jail administrator.
“The transition is such a large undertaking that it’s overwhelming,” said Roche, who is on the transition team. “It’s like looking at this huge project and going, “Oh my god, where do we start?'”
For the most part, the transition team is working full time to prepare for the move, and Roche said some of the staff is even working from home.
Construction is on schedule to be completed around June. Once the building is finished, jail staff will spend at least three months becoming familiar with the new jail before inmates are moved in.
“It’s going to take some time,” said Mower County Sheriff Terese Amazi. “Once this is slated to open, we’re not going to be ready. We know that. We have to get people trained, people into it knowing the inner workings of it.
The last thing you want to do is get inmates in there and have an issue.”
During that time, jailers will be familiarizing themselves with the building and different routes and practices inside the building. They’ll also be closing and opening doors to work out all the bugs in the new equipment in the hopes of catching malfunctioning door or camera before inmates are moved in.
While the building is scheduled to be completed this summer, Oscarson cautioned that a number of inspections will be required, and the city will need to issue a certificate of occupancy before the building can open.
The inner workings of the building have progressed drastically over the winter. While much of the finer work like carpeting and wiring remains, the building is now a rough version of what the completed building will look like. The finer skeleton of the building is now in place as the walls are all erected, and there is already earthy tones of green and yellow paint in some spots.
The jail, which is split into three pods, now features some cells that are nearly completed. In the female special management pod on the southwest corner of the building, crews have installed the beds, the writing desk, and the toilet and sink system in many of the cells. The doors have been installed on most of the cells, and the interiors of a few cells have already been painted.
The male special management unit is directly to the north and is identical to the female special management, but construction is not quite as far along in that pod. Each of these two pods will be split into about five separate sections, each with its own exercise room where the inmates will be during the day. Oscarson said the sections within these two pods can be modified or kept open depending on the type of prisoners and the number of prisoners in the jail. Oscarson said the sections within these two pods can be modified or kept open depending on the type of prisoners and the number of prisoners in the jail.
Jail staff will monitor them from a center room enclosed by break-proof glass.
In the male general population pod on the northwest corner of the building, the jailers will be in the open daily living area face-to-face with the inmates.
The switch from indirect supervision to direct supervision in the new jail will take a great deal of training.
When the jail opens, it will likely have a staff of 31.6 people. A portion of the new jailers have already been hired. Five are halfway through a two-week training academy in Steele County. Before the jail opens, they’ll also shadow employees at similar facilities around the area.
The new staff will be trained on the new form of supervision, but they’ll also need to learn to work in the current jail. The new jailers will then flip flop with the current jailers so they can begin training on the new jail method.
“For the staff, they’re going to learn the old jail and then their going have to learn the new jail, but it’s the only way we can free up our current staff to get the updated, current training to go over to the new jail,” Roche said.
Along with the change from indirect supervision to direct supervision, Roche said statistics show some employees will choose to leave because they are uncomfortable with the new style. However, Roche said he doesn’t anticipate any jailers will quit because of the change. Most of the employees are excited for the change, he said.
A key reason staff is excited for the move is because they will be working in a more modern facility.
“We’re going from the old turn key to virtually no keys over here. That’s how big it is,” Roche said of the change.
Roche said the jail will operate much more efficiently than the current facility. Currently, most of the visitors, inmates, food and other materials all enter the jail through one door.
“It’s organized chaos,” Roche said describing the current system.
The new jail will have a loading dock for deliveries for food and other things on the east side of the building, which Roche said will take a lot of the stress off the staff.
Roche said the flow of inmates in the jail will be much smoother in the new jail. Police can enter the jail through a secured garage on the east side of the building where police can drive in to drop off inmates. A police officer will then turn the prisoner over to jail staff in the booking area of the jail where there are temporary holding cells. This new system allows officers to get back to patrol duties more quickly.
Even moving prisoners around in the jail will be much different, as prisoners will be moved in a secured area to an upstairs holding area between two of the court rooms. Inmates will essentially not leave the jail until stepping foot into the court room.
Currently, inmates are moved through back hallways of the jail, and prisoners often pass court house staff, including judges.
“It’s very common for a judge to walk between a line of inmates,” Amazi said.
Judges will have private hallways between their chambers and the courtrooms, and the hallway will be locked off to lawyers and other people unless the judge approves otherwise, Oscarson said.
Along with a public hallway, the building will also have a staff hallway.
Even visitation methods will be updated, as visitors will communicate via computers with inmates while they remain securely in the jail — there will be no face-to-face visitation, Amazi said.
The jail completed a policy review about half a year ago, so the policies will be easier to adapt. However, Roche said they’ll need to tweak the policies to ensure fit of the new procedures.
For example, the transition team will need to determine how much time will be dedicated to nursing and doctor visits in the jail. The team will also need to determine how inmates will move through the jail to such spots. Amazi said such decisions have not been made yet, and could change down the road.
Mower County isn’t making the transition alone. Along with training assistance, area jailers who’ve gone through similar transitions have offered advice and help.
“We’re really fortunate in the respect that there are a lot of counties out there that are helping,” Roche said.
“A lot of them have new jails, and they’ve gone through the transition,” he added. “The transition team’s been in touch with them. They’re just an awesome, awesome resource.”
After all the preparation work of the transition team, the actual move to the new building will likely be simple, Roche said.
“Moving will be the easy part — physically moving things over there,” Roche said.
“Moving is going to be more of a chore than a challenge,” he added.