Porter County officials ponder future of jail pact with feds
By James D. Wolf Jr. Post-Tribune correspondent January 22, 2013 4:34PM
Also at the meeting, the commissioners appointed Portage accountant Nicole Thorn as the Porter County representative on the Gary/Chicago International Airport, but not without comment from Evans.
“I think the governance of the board needs to be changed,” Evans said.
It’s supposed to be a regional airport, but of the seven members, one is appointed by the Porter County commissioners, one by the Lake County commissioners and one by the governor.
But the four appointed by the Gary mayor hold a majority vote and seem beholden to the city, he said.
Thorn is a former chief financial officer for the airport.
Updated: February 24, 2013 6:26AM
VALPARAISO — As the Porter County Jail considers a new medical service and got permission to purchase its first electronic medical records system, Porter County Board of Commissioners President John Evans, R-North, wants to consider no longer housing state and federal prisoners.
The jail is also having some trouble paying for an outpatient drug therapy program due to a change in the way funds are collected from prisoners.
Evans said at the commissioners meeting on Tuesday that he believed the jail had to make special accommodations for federal prisoners when it began to house them, and with fewer prisoners, costs and payments should get reviewed.
“It’s not beneficial if it’s not making us money,” he said.
Porter County Sheriff David Lain said he already had placed a call with the federal marshal concerning the contract, but added he doesn’t know of any extras provided for federal prisoners.
The jail has averaged 19 federal prisoners a month for $56 a day, roughly $388,000 a year, Lain said.
However, those are 19 beds that could be used for local prisoners, and the jail is required to make use of all space before opening the third pod of the building, something that would require more employees and more money to run.
Lain said he is concerned that if the county pulls out of the 2011 contract with the federal courts, there might be penalties, including repayment of a $1.3 million “signing bonus” Porter County received.
The National Institute of Corrections recommended improving medical service based on a study of the jail, and that’s a constitutional issue for all prisoners, Lain said.
Eleven companies bid to provide the medical service, and Lain will recommend one at the Feb. 19 meeting.
For the prison medical records, the commissioners approved low bidder CorEMR of Utah not to exceed $45,000 for one-time installation and training.
Lain wants the system functioning as soon as possible because of a backlog of records and before getting a new medical provider.
With the jail keeping its own records, it won’t lose access to inmates’ medical information if it switches medical providers.
The financial trouble with the jail’s chemical dependency program comes from a change last year mandated by the State Board of Accounts, which said the jail can’t charge a fee on booking prisoners and then refund it to those found not guilty or having charges dropped.
Lain said the courts now charge the fee on conviction, which creates a lag in money for the annual $136,000 Porter-Starke Services charges for the chemical dependency program.