To the Editor:
Recent comments have been bantered about in local publications concerning the operating cost of the Palo Alto County Sheriff's Office. Most recently mentioned was the jail. Here are the facts:
1. The employee wages are a large part of the total cost. This item is determined through negotiation between employees and the county board. The sheriff's office has nothing to do with this aspect of the budget.
2. Each year, a state jail inspector assesses the jail facility determining what changes or improvements need to be made. This year, 2012, because of Todd Suhr's grant writing skills and Sheriff's Goeders and Chief Deputy Suhr's direction, the jail, after eight years of work, received a clean bill of health with no recommendations for changes or improvements. Because of previous years of neglect, before Sheriff Geoders took office, this had never been accomplished!
3. The Palo Alto Jail has, over the past eight years, been required to deal with individuals facing very serious charges ranging from domestic assault to child sex crimes, attempted murder and murder. During this period, 30+ individuals have been convicted in district and federal court with individual sentences as long as 34 years.
4. The state requires that the jail officer on duty have personal contact with each prisoner every hour, 24/7. If jail staff is not available to meet this demand of dealing with inmates on an hourly basis, it would be necessary to have a deputy do the checks. This would take the officer out of service while he drives into the jail facility to conduct the necessary work and return to continue with his work of investigation and responding to request for help.
5. Because of a reduction in state funding, waiting for beds at existing facilities and the closing of a number of mental health treatment centers, the jail has become a dumping ground for many mental health patients as they await adjudication. This type of inmate demands more attention with up to quarter hourly checks or constant monitoring. If they require medication for this and other problems and cannot pay for the meds the jail must provide that service as well. This would also happen if inmates were housed in another county facility.
6. A recent publication brought up a figure for jail cost of $728.00 per day for 2 inmates. Where these figures came from is anyone's guess. The fact is, from 2005 through 2011, the Palo Alto Correction Center housed an average of 5.33 inmates per day. Numerous days, 10+ inmates were housed while awaiting court appearances. During the 2011 year, inmates served 996 days of jail time for an average of 4.32 days per prisoner. If in 2011 individuals would have been housed in another county facility, it would cost a minimum of $54,780.00 in addition to the cost of an officer to transport prisoners from the housing facilities to court proceedings and then return. This type of change would require a full-time office for each shift, an additional car and transportation costs. It would further deprive the county the payment received for prisoners serving time. These are requests from out of the county individuals to serve time in the Palo Alto County Facility which brings in additional revenue. As of November 1, 2012 the booking numbers are in excess of the total bookings for 2011.
7. The state requires that jails serve an adequate meal three times a day. In an attempt to save money, these meals are usually prepared in house. Ten years ago jail staff bragged about spending $0.50 for a total meal. Today, that would not buy a glass of milk or a cup of coffee. We all are experiencing the increase in food cost.
Because of work by Chief Deputy Todd Suhr and Sheriff Goeders, a more efficient record keeping has brought additional funds into the sheriff's office for individuals serving court ordered time. Eight years ago there were 70 individuals on probation to the sheriff's office. Last year 200+ individuals were required to report to the sheriff's office each month at $25 per person. Evidently there are officers doing the job for which they were hired. The money collected for this service goes directly into the county general fund. The sheriff's office and jail receives $00.00 of that collected income.
It's quite clear which candidate is ready to handle the many requirements of the sheriff's office and the jail facility for Palo Alto County. Todd Suhr has been involved every step of the way for the past eight years. He is ready from day one to assume the responsibilities of the Palo Alto Sheriff's Office.
Be sure to vote on November 6th and select Chief Deputy Todd Suhr, Nominated by Petition, as your next Palo Alto County Sheriff.
(signed) Ken Zwiefel
Resident of Fairfield Township, Palo Alto County