Two Rivers ACA certification to be completed this year
Thu, 01/21/2016 - 11:54am admin
Emerald awaits BIA contract for Two Rivers Detention Facility
By Jim Eshleman and Andrew Turck, Big Horn County News
We want to be here for the community.” – Emerald Corrections Senior Warden Michael Porter
While a contract between the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Emerald Correctional Management has yet to be signed – leaving the Emerald-managed Two Rivers Detention Facility with zero prisoners as of January – both parties agree that it will be finalized. In an interview last Wednesday, Emerald Corrections Senior Warden Michael Porter said company officials are in contact with the BIA on a daily basis.
The 464-bed, $27 million facility, which has the capacity to employ 150 people, is currently down to six corrections officers. To break even from an economic standpoint, the facility requires 250 detainees – a number they acquired from 10 tribes and seven states during the building’s peak in July 2015.
“There are people waiting to be brought to this facility,” Porter said. “We want to be here for the community.”
In November, Jason Thompson, assistant director for the BIA’s Office of Justice Services, said the contract between his organization and Two Rivers should be renewed quickly, though he admitted to not having control over the timeline. He said the BIA “ran up against the end of the year” in approving a new contract and he expressed a desire not to repeat the delay in the future.
“The new contract is at the contracting office now,” he said. “I don’t really know how long it will take, but it shouldn’t be too much longer.”
Like Porter, Thompson said tribal officials nationwide were “pretty eager” to use the Two Rivers facility. Emerald’s individually-paced Turning Point Program – targeted towards their Native demographic – is designed to help detainees recover from problems including substance abuse over the course of 6-9 months, while giving them opportunities to learn life skills and express their culture.
“The programs are designed to evaluate the needs for the individual detainee,” Porter said, “and then they are placed in a program that fits their needs.”
Making ACA standards
One problem plaguing the facility is the allegation that it doesn’t meet state or federal standards.
In a June 2015 interview with Assistant Warden Ted Lewis, he said, “The facility meets American Correctional Association (ACA) standards and is operated following the standards they set. The facility also meets or exceeds all Montana Association of Counties (MACo) standards for the state.”
The ACA not only certifies the facility, but also sets standards on how inmates and employees are treated to ensure their safety.
James Parkey of Corplan Corrections, who has been involved with Two Rivers Detention Facility since its inception in 2004, said, “ACA inspectors have recently looked at the facility and have no problem with it.”
The inspection, Porter added, was “very thorough.” While a long process, he said, “The facility will be certified by the ACA this year.”
According to Two Rivers Warden Ken Keller, once the ACA accreditation goes through, the facility will be the only such accredited facility in Montana.
“It will be pretty hard to argue that we don’t meet any standards,” Keller said.
Goldman report cites ‘building-related problems’
An April-May 2014 report by 26-year veteran Contractor Mark Goldman of the National Institute of Corrections entitled “Consideration of Options for Incarcerating Big Horn County’s Inmates” identified various “building-related problems” with the facility.
The report was drafted with the intention of helping the county decide whether to keep their current jail – built in 1979, construct a new jail at an estimated cost of $10 million or transport inmates to the Two Rivers facility at a cost of $68 per inmate per day (the charge includes transportation and medical services).
Using the report figures, if the county were to house its daily average of 42 inmates at Two Rivers, it would cost an estimated $1,042,440 per year. If an inmate were to be injured in the facility, Two Rivers would be liable, not the county.
Concerns cited by Goldman – among others – include the absence of natural light in housing units or program rooms, the belief that the facility’s 24-bed dormitories were “too large and inappropriate” for local inmates, and an alleged lack of regular supervision (according to facility officials, detainees are observed every 30 minutes).
The document also states that, “reportedly”, the American Civil Liberties Union was advocating against incarcerating inmates in the facility. In reality, ACLU has not studied the Two Rivers facility, but the findings of their study of the Big Horn County jail were released in a February 2015 report.
At the time, the jail was ranked by its inmates last among the 24-30 county jails surveyed in access to natural light, satisfaction with food variety, plumbing and mold management. Following the study report, former Undersheriff Bart Elliott said the county was working with the organization to improve the jail’s living conditions.
County Commissioner George Real Bird III said the prevailing opinion among county officials was that they should build a new jail. Within a decade, he said, the cost of renting from Two Rivers would exceed the cost of constructing a new building.
The estimated cost for the facility’s construction does not account for day-to- day operations. Thsi cost was unavailable at press time.
This year, he said, the question of whether to build a new jail might be placed on the primary or general election ballot.
“I know that if something came down hard on us, like the ACLU, I think we’d have to get the ball rolling,” he said, “but, as a whole, I think we’re trying to hold it off as far as we can.”
Keohane report praises facility
A second report, entitled “Inspection and Familiarization” filed in December 2013 by Correctional Consultant Patrick W. Keohane, showed a more positive picture of the facility.
In the report, following his inspection, Keohane stated the building had been well-maintained despite being vacant since its 2007 construction (it opened in August 2014).
As someone who served as chairperson of “about 80 prison and jail audits through the United States and Mexico”, he believed the area to be well-secure with effective medical facilities (including an X-ray equipment room, dental treatment room and pharmacy). The lack of natural light addressed in the other report, he stated, would be provided by overhead lighting and probably wouldn’t “lessen the quality of life” for detainees.
“Since I have seen many jails and prisons throughout the United States, my thoughts are that some other states, counties and cities would jump to have a facility like this one,” he stated. “It appears to me that this is such a waste to let such a fine facility stay empty.”
At press time, the Two Rivers facility has been operating without a BIA contract since Nov. 1, 2015.