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County names director
November 04, 2016 Jerry Purvis   

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Joseph Gaul

A nationwide search for a new director at the county detention center turned up a man in Scotts Bluff County’s own backyard, Morrill. Joseph Gaul was recently named the new Director of the Detention Center.

The search began when Scotts Bluff County Detention Center Director Ron Johns resigned on May 31, 2016 after 10 years in the position.

Gaul, an Army and Navy veteran, also holds master’s degrees in criminal justice and business administration. For the past four and half years, he has worked as a corrections officer at Wyoming’s medium security detention center in Torrington.

During that time, Gaul worked on his master’s in criminal justice. “I really thrive on a challenge, and I thought my background would be a good fit here,” he said.

Gaul also has experience in working with juveniles at the St. Joseph’s Children’s Home in Torrington.

Gaul said rehabilitation is an important part of corrections. “I believe everyone deserves a chance. There are a lot of programs out there, we could consider, that would allow our inmates to be successful in re-entering the community.”

County Board Chairman Mark Masterton said it’s unusual to find someone that qualified so close to home. “We had a lot of good candidates, but Joseph stood out for us,” he said. “He has experience and a lot of education. Both his degrees will be important to us, because we have to manage both a multi-million-dollar jail expansion and a $4 million annual budget.”

Gaul, who started his new job Nov. 3, will face a big challenge: how to deal with overcrowded conditions in the facility. He had earlier said he would consult with his assistant director and county staff to determine what can be done to remedy the problem.

The solution being pursued by the county is to build a new addition with 134 beds onto the existing detention center. However, construction costs will be in the $11.6 million range.

The decision to expand the center became obvious after the state declared the county jail out of compliance with jail standards for inmate population. So, the county board contacted Riley-Johnson architects in Denver to assist them with building a facility to meet standards. The county used the firm 10 years ago when the original jail was built.

Architect Bob Johnson showed the commissioners plans to include space for a medical aid station, and a central control area for monitoring, on video feeds, activity around the building.

“With the addition, we’re trying to replicate or mirror the building we currently have,” Johnson said. “There will still be some modifications as we go along.”

About a month ago, the county reached an agreement with the state jail standards commission to alleviate overcrowding. It calls for schematic drawings for a facility due to be built by March 2017. “We don’t have all the answers today,” Johnson said, “but we need to show the state we’re making progress.”

He assured the board they will explore how to address mental health problems and separating inmates. That wasn’t a consideration during the design of the original facility. In all detention centers across the country, a major problem is the high number of inmates that suffer from mental illness to some degree.

Because of overcrowding, the county is currently spending an approximate $720,000 a year to house inmates in other facilities. That money could be spent to help pay for the new addition to the county jail.

“Over the next few months, we’re trying to find a point where we can get all the numbers to make sense and make it viable and doable,” Johnson told the board. “We have to do something.”

The county board agreed to have Riley-Johnson pull more research together to come up with a viable plan by next spring.
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