The Rusk County Board heard a presentation on the possibility of completing a projected outlook and detailed look at the county’s infrastructure needs during its March 23 meeting.
Department of Corrections Jail Inspector Brad Hoover and representative Kurt Burner of the Samuels Group presented the possibility of conducting either a jail study or a master plan for the county’s entire infrastructure.
A jail study would assess the current environment and needs of the Rusk County Jail, staff projections, correctional management of the jail, the capital needed to make updates, the current strengths and the anticipated projected growth.
The current jail was built in the early 1980s and regular inspections of the jail is finding inadequacies that need to be addressed.
Inmates at the jail are classified upon entering on certain characteristics such as male, female, co-dependents, mental health needs, criminal history, sexual identification, current crime, age, COVID-19 concerns, risk of victimizing or being victimized among other classifications. Often, inmates are required to be separated into different areas of the jail based on these classifications.
The Rusk County Jail is stressed at being able to meet the needs of the classifications. The jail has two holding cells jail staff use while classifying inmates; however due to an increase in mental health issues, detoxification, suicide watch and other immediate needs, the holding cells are typically in use. This causes some inmates to be added into the general population before being classified.
This becomes an important issue of safety and security for all of the inmates and the jail staff.
If a jail study were completed and a new design would take into consideration the more than a dozen classifications that need to be taken into consideration.
Jail Captain George Murray said, “space has become a huge issue. Classification has become a huge issue.” Due to this, the jail has had some violations during inspections.
In 2020, the jail had between 700-800 inmates booked into the jail.
Looking several decades into the future, the ability to add bunk beds to accommodate population fluctuation would grant the sheriff more flexibility, according to Hoover. Cell size has not changed within the last 10 years.
While changes in legal standards of jail requirements can change, building a new jail or making modifications that allow for growth would allow inspections to be based on more updated and current jail regulations.
One clear benefit the current jail has is the proximity to the courtrooms.
Supervisor Bill McBain asked about how COVID-19 affected jail operations in 2020. Hoover said the virus and the need to be quarantined became difficult to do in the Rusk County Jail and was a mandatory new classification before an inmate could be housed.
A newer jail design would take old and new classifications into consideration to expand flexibility.
Supervisor Mike Hraban asked about how increasing the size of the jail would affect staffing needs within the jail. Hoover said that with a modern design, it could be possible to not need more staff for 100 inmates versus 50 inmates, making financial staffing needs to be about the same.
Hoover told supervisors that there could be ramifications of choosing to neglect making some updates to the jail. While some flags on inspections are grandfathered in, sometimes the jail is given 90 days to correct issues. But this could prove to be more challenging as time and the age of the jail progress.
A typical jail study could cost between $25,000-$35,000 and determine the county’s needs for the next 20-30 years.
On the other hand, another option presented would be a master plan to evaluate the entire infrastructure, inefficiencies, technology and internet needs and assess all of the county’s assets.
The master plan would give county officials a snapshot of the state of the county’s properties and evaluate it’s needs from a third party perspective, according to Burner. “Right now the county is borrowing at sub-two percent, the master plan looks at how to prioritize your money to complete projects,” said Burner.
The master plan, according to Burner, gives county officials a living roadmap to allow the county to historically look how to move forward.
A master plan would cost $50,000 and $100,000 and would include a plan for the jail as well. Representatives would collect data and information about all buildings, speak with employees, attend committee meetings over a period of at least four or five days. Over the course of several months, the master plan could be developed.
Also presented in the meeting were several department annual reviews by Rusk County Sheriff Jeff Wallace, Emergency Management Director Tom Hall, Medical Examiner Jim Rassbach, and Economic Development, Airport and Tourism Director Andy Albarado.
Since Christmas, Wallace said there have been 37 arrests for drug-related offenses, primarily methamphetamine. He hopes the community will rise up to help law enforcement to take drugs off the streets. In 2020 drug-related offenses and domestic issues increased.
According to Rassbach, the overall number of deaths in the county in 2020 averaged the same as other years, despite COVID-19.
The next county board meeting will be held at 7 p.m., Tuesday, April 27.