Saturday, February 24, 2018

The gate to the Two Rivers Detention Facility in Hardin stands ajar Tuesday morning, due to a lack of detainees. The $27 million facility needs an estimated 250 inmates to break even financially.

Waiting for the contract

Document holdup costs Two Rivers Detention Facility its employees, inmates
I don’t really know how long it will take, but it shouldn’t be too much longer.” –Jason Thompson, BIA Office of Justice Services

Sometimes, a single document can make all the difference – in this case, that would be a contract between the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Emerald Correctional Management. Just ask the six corrections officers  staffing Emerald’s now inmate-free Two Rivers Detention Facility.

Until recently, visitors to the Hardin facility needed to be buzzed in through two 12-foot, gated fences topped with razor wire. After entering the building’s lobby they passed through a metal detector and, if it rang, were checked by a guard using an electronic wand. On Monday afternoon, the gates stood ajar and a single guard opened the facility door to greet a Big Horn County News reporter. When the metal detector rang, no secondary check followed.

Security is less of a priority than usual with zero detainees to guard in the 464-bed facility. An estimated 250 are needed to reach a break-even point.

The Two Rivers facility – from its opening ceremony on Aug. 27, 2014 to Nov. 1 the following year – had an average detainee population of 150 people, peaking in July at 250 people from seven states.

While Warden Ken Keller declined to say how many people had to be laid off, as it approached its peak detainee population the facility employed 26 correctional officers and eight medical staff – many of whom were Big Horn County residents. By June 2015, additional correctional officers were hired with a starting salary of $18 an hour to help with the rising inmate population.

Then, as Keller said in a Nov. 6 interview, “all of the numbers dropped.”

The Bureau of Indian Affairs Division of Corrections has  yet to renew their contract with Emerald as of Nov. 1. Two Rivers employees were furloughed at first to preserve their jobs, taking an additional day off per week, but eventually the cost of holding onto them grew too large.

Speaking in November during the furlough, Keller said Emerald had “invested a lot” in the staff and they are “an important part of the company and facility.”

“Everybody was notified that, as soon as we can start bringing them back that we’d call them in and bring them back to work,” Keller said from his office on Monday. “Other than those who choose not to return. There were a few who probably had other options.”

Jason Thompson, assistant director for the BIA’s Office of Justice Services, said in a November interview that, though he had no control over how fast the contract went through, it shouldn’t take too much more time.

“This is a larger contract and larger funds, and…we ran up against the end of the year on this one,” he said. “The new contract is at the contracting office now. I don’t really know how long it will take, but it shouldn’t be too much longer.”

The BIA was unavailable for comment at press time in regards to the document’s current progress.

While they wait for the contract on their end, Keller said, the remaining Two Rivers staff would be focusing on upkeep of the facility – painting, repairs, cleaning and maintenance – so the building “looks new.”

“It’s easy to do while we’re in this situation,” he said.