By Keith Gushard
While improvements can be made in staff training, handling inmate grievances and providing inmate health care, an independent review of Crawford County jail operations has found the jail “is a very well-run facility.”
The 52-page independent report compiled by representatives of the National Institute of Corrections was not nearly as critical as some members of the public who have made consistent appearances at county Board of Commissioners meetings to share concerns.
A copy of the report was released to the Tribune late Wednesday afternoon in response to an open records request. A full copy of the report is available at meadvilletribune.com.
The report found that while the inmate grievance procedure is appropriate, there’s no indication of follow-up; that a formal annual staff training plan be developed and staff display professional behavior at all times; and that health care services have improved and must continue to do so.
The National Institute of Corrections, an agency within the Federal Bureau of Prisons, has no official jurisdiction over county jails, so its investigators only make recommendations, not mandates.
On Jan. 24, the prison board voted to have an independent review of jail operations in response to a small group of critics which publicly had raised concerns about the jail’s operations following a handful of high-profile incidents over the past few years at the jail.
Two reviewers from the NIC visited the jail March 18 and 19, meeting with jail staff, inmates, members of the Crawford County Prison Board and those whom have been critical of the jail.
The report by the two NIC representatives, James Hart, past president of the American Correctional Association, and Denny Macomber, chief of jail standards for the Nebraska Crime Commission, found several areas where improvements could be made.
Though the process for inmates to submit grievances appears to be sufficient, the report found there should be better tracking of follow-up, particularly with accusations of unnecessary or excessive force.
“We noted that in this instance, an investigation is conducted, and the results forwarded to the Warden and Deputy Warden,” the report states. “While the investigations appeared thorough, there was no indication that the Warden or Deputy Warden actually reviewed the investigation results. We would suggest that these reports be signed and dated by an administrator after their review with annotations of any actions taken.”
Inmate grievances on food service also should have better handling, according to the report.
“It was noted that a trend exists where, particularly with food service, the response was ‘This matter was referred to the kitchen,’” the report states. “There was no indication if the grievance was answered, when it was answered, by who, or what the response was. We suggest that a better tracking and response system be implemented.”
The report suggests the deputy warden or warden review those grievances after the response to identify any trends that may need their involvement.
The report says staff training should be improved by developing a formalized annual training plan identifying all training to be presented. It should include when training will be, who will teach it, the number of hours required, lesson plans and extensive record keeping.
Training should also include a designated training coordinator; a review of all policy and procedures for new employees; and a self-directed learning resource center of books, magazines and videos on jail topics, according to the report.
The report also found that staff should “display professional behavior at all times.”
“It is important that staff be properly trained to maintain professional demeanor,” the report states. “It is important that staff be held accountable for any unprofessional behavior. The perception of indifference is difficult to disperse.”
“It should be noted that the vast majority of interactions observed by the consultants during this visit were professional and appropriate,” the report states. “We believe this is a very well-run facility.”
The report has concerns about the disparity both in pay and training between per diem staff and full-time staff.
“While we understand the financial issues related to maintaining a pool of full-time employees, it is important for the county to recognize that there can be liability consequences related to cutting corners in staffing and training,” the report found.
The report states the county’s hiring of PrimeCare Medical Inc. to improve inmate health care was “a wise move,” noting that “after a review of documentation provided by the facility and by the public, there is documentation to indicate that there may have been issues with the health care in this facility.”
The report said both the Crawford County Prison Board and the jail’s administration recognized a problem and moved to correct it.
“It appears that in the six months that the new provider has been in house, there has been a marked reduction in complaints related to provision of medical services,” the report states. “The fact that the provider will work with the county to achieve accreditation through the NCCHC (National Commission on Correctional Health Care) is significant. We commend the board for pursuing this challenging initiative and encourage the board to get a copy of the NCCHC standards and become familiar with them.”
Under the county’s contract with PrimeCare Medical that began in October 2012, PrimeCare is obligated to bring the jail into compliance with National Commission on Correctional Health Care standards, according to the report.
“This would be a significant achievement for this facility and would certainly work toward addressing the myriad medical complaints that led to this visit,” the report states.