Faced with losing a significant source of revenue toward the $11 million annual cost of operating his prison, Butler County jail Warden Rick Shaffer is working on a plan that will replace the state inmates he had been housing in his facility.
Mr. Shaffer met recently with a representative of the state Department of Probation and Parole to discuss housing state parole violators.
Even before the new prison opened in July 2009, it was envisioned that the 512-bed lockup could accommodate prisoners from the overburdened state system.
The inflow of those state prisoners started in April 2010, paying $60 a day for their overflow inmates.
Last year, the state switched course, announcing that the state prisoners would be shifted back into the state penal system beginning Jan. 1.
The impact on the Butler County coffers would mean a loss of about $40,000 per month.
Another option is being explored, though. The corrections department has asked the county to take on technical parole violators -- released prisoners who have forfeited their freedom because they've been found to be in violation of the terms of their parole. Those terms could range from consuming drugs or alcohol to failing to show up for meetings.
The concept is that Butler County Prison would agree to provide counseling for the parole violators while they serve out the sentence they receive for the parole violation. In preparation for such an agreement, Mr. Shaffer has arranged for four of his prison guards/counselors to receive state-subsidized training that would allow the Butler facility to offer state-mandated and endorsed treatment programs for the violators.
"If it all comes together, we'd be able to replace the [prisoners who had been serving out their state sentence] with the technical parole violators," Mr. Shaffer explained. It would be a win-win for both the county and the state. The state would not have to outsource the treatment services the state had been paying for, and the county would maintain its state revenue stream.
The arrangement would have to be approved by the county prison board and the county commissioners. No reimbursement rate has been set. Despite the uncertainty of the particulars, some state parole violators already are being housed in the Butler jail though no treatment programs have begun and the reimbursement rate of $60 per day is continuing.
The county has an agreement with the state currently that allows 30 state inmates to be housed at the downtown Butler prison. As of Feb. 14, 16 state parole violators were in the Butler jail.
Unlike the state prisoners that had been being housed in Butler for a year or two, these inmates are expected to stay for about 90 days.
The treatment sessions would deal with an array of issues that range from substance abuse to sexual offenders to batterers.
Each session would last 12 weeks. Mr. Shaffer envisions have one full-time corrections officer dedicated to counseling duties.
The Butler County Prison is divided into nine pods. Of those nine pods, seven are open. The average daily population is about 350. The highest number was 400, which was hit last summer.
As of Feb. 14, the population was 338. Capacity in the seven pods would be between 425 to 450, dependent on the nature of the inmate population -- such as gender. That leaves plenty of space for state parole violators without having to consider opening the remaining empty pods -- a prospect that would cost the county money and would require a substantial cost-benefit analysis, Mr. Shaffer said.
He is hoping to nail down the details of the new arrangement such as the per diem rate of reimbursement and the maximum number of parole violators the state envisions sending to Butler.
"I have many questions and few answers. I think this arrangement could work but we need information," he said. He said he enumerated the outstanding issues last week and hopes to hear back from the state soon. "Until then, I'm just taking who they give me and charging them $60 a day," he said.
Meanwhile, the Butler prison is housing federal inmates as well. As of Feb. 14, there were 38 federal prisoners in the county lockup. The county receives $76 per day for each.
"We would like to increase that number. We'd take as many as they would give us until we get to the point of needing to open another pod. At that point, we'd have to rethink things," he said, estimating that staffing a new pod would cost about $500,000 annually.
Karen Kane: firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-772-9180.