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Jail tackles rape prevention

The regional jail is hiring a new employee to get ready for an in-depth state inspection and compliance with federal mandates to prevent the rape of inmates.

“It is an enormous task to ensure we have the right policies in place and meet a huge amount of standards,” said Jim Weed, director of the Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facilities.

Weed has asked each of the four counties that share ownership of the jail to pay 2 percent more for operating expenses in the 2014-15 fiscal year budget. Not only does he need to cover the cost of the new employee, he is in negotiations with the union for corrections deputies and has budgeted a 2.5 percent wage increase in the new contract.

He said no one at the jail received a raise last year so a wage adjustment is likely to be included in the new contract.

The public hearing on the proposed budget, which totals almost $7.7 million, will be noon Thursday, June 19, in the juvenile conference room, 201 Webber Street.

“It’s a good budget,” said Weed. “I think there are things we’d like to have that we didn’t put in for, but I expect to end the year with something left.”

He said the state inspection takes place in about a year and governing policies have to be updated by that time and proof compiled that the facility is adhering to them.

The Prison Rape Elimination Act was signed into law by Pres. George W. Bush in 2003 and Weed said federal officials are now checking with institutions to make sure sexual assaults aren’t taking place.

“All of this is going to take up the time of one employee this year,” he said.

Weed has requested $130,000 to update computer software that runs the jail security system, but has remained unchanged since 1999. He said a bid to have that work done came in at more than twice what he budgeted, so he is trying to re-negotiate the deal.

“I’ve told the company that they had better sharpen their pencil a bit or we’re going to have to go with another vendor,” he said.

He said the budget woes of several years ago are largely gone, although federal authorities continue to push toward building their own facilities instead of maintaining contracts with existing jails.

For example, the U.S. Marshal’s contribution to NORCOR dropped from $775,000 in 2009 to $5,000 in 2010, a trend that continues.

Weed said the facility is down about 12 positions from his arrival in April 2009 when a new Oregon Youth Authority program is factored into the equation. He said 12 employees are needed to run TOOLS (Taking Ownership of Life Skills), which is helping 16 juveniles get an education, learn life skills and anger management.

Despite being housed in the jail, these teenagers are kept as separate as possible from about 15 other juveniles who are behind bars for criminal behavior.

There are currently 66 full-time and five part-time employees at NORCOR, said Weed, and an average daily population of 110 to 115 adult inmates.

Wasco County covers about 59 percent of the four counties’ share of operating costs and is the largest user of adult beds with an expected payout in the upcoming year of $1.9 million.

Hood River County averages 24 beds for adults, paying slightly more than $991,000 with Sherman at 8 beds at about $336,000 and Gilliam with 4 to 5 beds at an outlay of almost $187,000 per year.

On the juvenile side, Hood River uses the greatest number of beds, with an average of 2 per day at a yearly expenditure of about $469,000. Second place goes to Wasco with one bed per day at a cost of more than $313,483.

Sherman rarely requires a juvenile bed but reserves space at $17,500 per year and Gilliam’s use is slightly higher at an almost $75,000 expense.

Wasco County receives a slight discount in both adult and juvenile costs due because it is the host county for the jail. The reasoning behind the discount is that many homeless inmates stay in The Dalles when they are released and cause other law enforcement problems.

There are currently no pending lawsuits against NORCOR and Weed is relieved to have the problems that plagued the jail in the past resolved. However, he said the nature of the business will bring legal challenges at some point in the future, despite the fact that firm policies for supervising inmates are now in place and employees are held to high standards of conduct.

“Are there going to be more lawsuits? Yes,” he said. “We’re running a jail and inmates are going to file lawsuits but whether or not they collect anything remains to be seen.”

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