(Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part series about Jailer Doug Thomas’ first year in office.)
“When I first walked through these doors, I knew I was going to have to spend some money — it’s the only jail we’re going to have.” said Jailer Doug Thomas, who completed his first year in office Dec. 31.
The detention center, built in 1989, needed many improvements, he said. The new jailer and his staff have been “making it work” with much of the furniture and equipment already in place.
However, he spent $11,000 on two leaky boilers, $8,000 on heaters and “quite a bit” of money on painting, he said.
With every cell freshly painted, Thomas thinks the improvements have made an impact on jail residents.
“Now they realize that I want them to have a nice, clean area and that we want it to stay clean,” he said.
There also have been improvements to the control panel that operates the doors and lights after a repairman discovered corrosion in the wiring.
Thomas plans to replace the control panel with a computer system that will allow all the same functions, but at the click of a mouse.
In April, the detention center began using JailTracker.com, which makes inmate information available to the public via the Internet. It provides a mug shot of each inmate, when they were received and released, the charges against them and their bond.
The software also internally tracks commissary funds, what the inmates spend and deposit, a feature that has helped with auditing, Thomas said.
“When the auditors come in, we can just give them a print out,” he said. “In the past, they had to gather three or four boxes of stuff, now we just hand them a folder.”
Policies have been changed to better serve visitors and control crowding that occurred on visitation days, the jailer said. Previously, visiting an inmate was on a first-come, first-serve basis. Now, visitors may come by appointment.
“On the weekends, you would have a hundred people out on the front porch standing in the snow, freezing cold or hundred-degree heat, just waiting to visit,” Thomas said.
In September, the jail got new medical services through Advanced Correctional Healthcare based in Peoria, Ill.
“The new healthcare system has been the best thing we’ve ever done here,” Thomas said. “It’s expensive, but in the long run, we’ll be saving money or breaking even.”
Previously, the jail had been transporting around four to five residents to the hospital everyday. The cost of transport, an officer being away from the jail and the risk of inmates fleeing were all disadvantages of the old system, he said.
Whenever there had been a medical concern, someone at the jail would call the physician assistant, who would often recommend the resident be taken to the hospital.
Now the jail has a nurse from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Three doctors visit the jail once a week. All medical staff are on-call 24-hours a day.
Advanced Correctional Healthcare also handles lab work and brings in a X-ray machine when needed, at a much cheaper rate than using the hospital, Thomas said.
As part of the contract, all officers are required to receive basic medical training from the company as well.
“I am responsible for these residents,” Thomas said. “It makes all the difference having a professional nurse in the facility all day, instead of one of us asking a resident what’s wrong with them.”
Before Thomas became jailer, the detention center utilized two cameras that recorded eight hours of footage and transmitted to just three monitors.
Now the jail is equipped with 36 cameras that can record 30 days of footage. Thomas is able to monitor the inmates from his home, from a large-screen television in his office or from the booking area.
Thomas plans to install additional cameras in each cell.
“All the jailers will tell you, this is the way you have to do it now,” he said. “I can find out who tore the phone up, who flooded the cell, and who beat up who.”
Thomas said the facility has come a long way, but they still have a long way to go. Although he hates to spend the money, all the improvements were necessary.
“The jail was getting old and worn out,” said Judge-Executive Kent Clark. “Doug really sat down with a master plan and figured out what needed to be done.”
Clark said, “We are slowly, but surely upgrading everything to make the jail more efficient.”
“The district courts are flooded, the jail is always running over capacity, but Doug and his staff are handling it,” Clark said. “He’s doing an excellent job.”
Crystal Wylie can be reached at email@example.com or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.