Newly elected Marion County Sheriff Rob Craft has been in office for about a month. There has been little mentioned about the jail situation since the November election when a proposed sales tax increase to cover bond payments and the construction of a new jail failed.
Since Craft took the helm, he has not had any conversations with the state fire marshal’s office regarding the current jail.
“I understand the safety issues,” Craft said, and he knows steps were taken in 2008 to address immediate concerns expressed by the fire marshal.
The inmate population certainly has not decreased in the past month, with 14-15 prisoners housed daily in the 1930s facility that was designed for less than a dozen.
Another issue that occurred in 2008 was the closing of Golden Living Center, a Marion nursing home that provided meals to prisoners.
Since that time, two meals are made in-house. The evening meal is purchased from Carlsons’ Grocery of Marion.
The total cost of meals per prisoner per day is $8.34.
Craft said prisoners are required to receive meals that provide dietary supplements to meet nutritional needs. A specific calorie number is required but the calories also have to provide nutrition.
The sheriff gave examples of meals the prisoners currently receive.
Breakfast may include cold cereal, fruit, orange juice, and milk. Sometimes bread or rolls are provided.
A typical lunch is a cold sandwich of meat or another protein, with chips. Occasionally vegetables will be included.
Supper is a hot meal from the store’s delicatessen. Prisoners are served the daily special, which typically includes meat, potato, vegetable, and a roll.
“We considered other options, but this is the most cost-effective,” Craft said.
There is no extra space in the current jail for additional appliances — such as freezers or microwaves.
“Purchasing the meals from the grocery store is the most practical,” Craft said.
The previous administration had purchased an additional refrigerator to store cold foods and drinks, and that continues to be used.
So, what is Craft’s opinion about the current jail situation?
“Decisions will have to be made at some point. I’ll be available to assist the commission in exploring options,” he said. One option he wants the county to consider is appointing a committee of county residents with diverse backgrounds to offer suggestions.
“The main concern is the safety of the prisoners and personnel in the jail,” Craft said.
“Everyone (employees) knows my expectations,” Craft said.
Keeping the majority of the previous staff has helped with continuing service to Marion County residents.
However, there have been some procedural changes that may not be obvious.
“We made a lot of internal and policy changes,” Craft said. “We always want to be receptive to public concerns and be efficient in responding and answering those needs.”
There are five deputies and one corrections officer/jailer in addition to the sheriff and undersheriff.
Employee attitude and morale are important.
“If an employee dislikes his job, he won’t be as productive,” Craft said.
Some changes have occurred with the hiring of a new undersheriff and giving additional duties to some officers.
Overall, Craft wants his department to provide necessary services and be professional.
“I also want people to feel comfortable and want to talk with us,” he said. “I plan to run this department as transparent as possible.”