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Jail continues toward self-financing
March 24, 2010 Jerry Purvis   

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When the new Scotts Bluff County Detention Center opened in November 2007, the ultimate goal was to have construction costs paid through holding inmates for other agencies.
“We’re not to the point where we’re self supporting, but it gets better every year,” said Ron Johns, facility director. “We’re on a separate accounting system from the rest of the county.”
Most county operations are paid through the general fund, the detention center system is a fund balance, which Johns calls a “checking account.” The system allows the county to track expenditures more precisely.
“When we opened in November 2007, our fund balance was $4,154,” he said. “We had to borrow money at first because we had no inmates. We paid that back within a year and at the end of 2008, our balance was $272,000. By November of 2009, we were at $1.48 million.”
The income was primarily generated by a contract with the U.S. Marshal’s Service to house federal inmates on a temporary basis. Additional funds come from housing inmates from other counties.
Johns said that although the detention center is paying more of its own way, there’s still some tax asking from the county to pay off the construction bonds. However, the tax asking has gone down every year since the center has been open.
“We’re at $1.2 million better off than we were in 2009,” he said. “That reduces the amount we have to borrow to run the facility.”
On average, it costs about $4 million a year to operate the facility. The primary cost, like any business, is for personnel.
“We’re a 24/7 facility and have both juvenile and adult facilities,” Johns said. “Jail standards mandate we have so many officers per kid on the juvenile side and so many on the adult side. Officers also have mandatory training they must complete, so we’re always busy.”
The facility was also built so new sections could be added in the future if the inmate population demands expansion.
“For the most part, we’ve been at near capacity or a bit over,” Johns said. “We’ve discussed expansion in the past, but it’s not economically feasible now.”
He said another possibility to free up cell space is to build a community work program type of facility which would house minimum security inmates and those on work release. Such a facility would cost less to build because stricter security construction would not be necessary.
“These inmates don’t need the same security, as they’re already going out into the community to work and spending the night here. They don’t need as much space as they get out all day.”
Johns said the detention center tries to be as community oriented as possible. Leadership Scotts Bluff and other community groups have toured the facility to learn about the services offered.
Center staff is deeply involved in programming, getting inmates the help they need, which can include anger management classes, conflict resolution, NA and AA services, as well as spiritual opportunities.
The staff also works with Workforce Development to secure jobs for inmates once they’re released.
“When I took this job, I told the commissioners I wasn’t their man if they just wanted someone to lock up the bad guys,” Johns said. “Our inmates will eventually be released, and they need the opportunity to succeed on the outside. That’s our job, to turn out people who are better than when they came in here.”
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