When Ric Bishop gets free time from his job as the chief jail deputy at the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, there’s a good chance he’s doing work for his second job — which involves more jails.
For the past five years, Bishop, 54, has worked as a jail risk consultant, spending a chunk of his vacation time flying to inspect other jails around the country. On weekends and before and after work on weekdays, Bishop reviews other jails’ policies for red flags and writes reports.
Though it makes him some extra money, Bishop said what really keeps him going is knowing that he’s helping out.
“I share what I’ve learned,” he said. “It’s about keeping your people safe and doing what’s right.”
Last year, Bishop was recognized as a jail expert when he was called as a witness in a federal class action lawsuit. In written testimony, he weighed in on conditions of confinement in Franklin County.
But if you ask him how he came to be considered so knowledgeable in the industry of housing offenders, he’d tell you it was all happenstance.
“I didn’t plan this … and I plan just about everything,” he said. “This was opportunity meeting preparation.”
When he started out his career, he wanted to be a patrol deputy. He couldn’t pass the physical test, however, so he applied to become a corrections deputy. He passed that test and accepted the job.
Years later, after losing more than 100 pounds, Bishop was approached by patrol lieutenants who encouraged him to take the test again and join the deputies on the road. But by then, Bishop had learned to love the work.
“I said, ‘No, I’m staying, this is too much fun,'” he said.
Eventually, he became the planning sergeant for the jail — a position that no longer exists — and enjoyed researching case law, reviewing corrections models and diving into strategic planning.
“It was my first exposure to real in-depth networking and research in corrections,” he said. “Next to the job I have right now, it’s one of the best jobs I’ve had at the sheriff’s office.”
Bishop continued advancing his career by climbing the ranks and taking on different duties to help the jail function. He helped build the jail work center, which opened in 2000, and participated in the National Institute for Corrections Executive Excellence Program in 2007.
During the training, he got a call from a friend who worked as a risk manager. He asked Bishop for his advice on consent decrees and jail overcrowding. Bishop answered a few sets of questions before saying, “I don’t mind helping you, but you can pay me if you want to anytime. … Three months later, I find myself in an airplane to the Deep South looking at a jail that has some ‘challenges,’ according to the insurance company,” Bishop said.
Well versed in case law and industry standards, Bishop wrote a report detailing the areas where the jail could improve to avoid being sued. After that, he inspected another jail and held a training for jail staff at another agency.
When he was asked to put his name in the hat for a contract job inspecting 15 jails in Wisconsin, he decided he needed to get serious.
He sat down and wrote out a business plan, started a limited liability company, All About Jails, and launched a website.
“One of the things my clients really like about me is, I’m not an academic,” he said. “I give them practical solutions. … I tell them, ‘You can call this jail, you can call this jail,’ and I network them together.”
He said he’s also good at working with jail administrators because he is one himself and so he understands balancing budget constraints with growing regulations.
“On Monday morning, after I fly out of your jail, I’m facing the same problems in mine,” he said.
Over the past five years, he’s grown his business through word of mouth, visiting 25 facilities from 19 agencies. Bishop said he cares about making sure the jail is doing a good job and isn’t susceptible to outlandish lawsuits.
“When an inmate sues, they’re going after tax dollars,” he said. “I’ll do the research and help other counties stop those losses.”
Brenda Schelman worked with Bishop when he inspected the 15 jails in Wisconsin and said that the employees at the first facility were skeptical of Bishop.
“Once they realized he’s a jail guy just like them and he’s there to help them … I think they were looking forward to it,” she said.
When Sheriff Chuck Atkins was selecting his command staff, Bishop was one of the few administrators he kept in the same position.
“I knew that he was going to stay where he was at because institutionally he’s got the knowledge in-house,” Atkins said.
Having worked in the law enforcement arm of the sheriff’s office for his career, Atkins said that Bishop is crucial in his understanding of the corrections branch. Though he has the power to restrict someone from taking a second job, Atkins said he had no problem with Bishop’s side business because in the end, he said, Clark County benefits.
“(It) opens his eyes to what’s going on in these other jails — which ones are doing it right, which ones aren’t and it’s something we can learn from,” he said. “I get all that knowledge and ability that he learns and comes back and runs this jail for us. It’s a win-win.”
For example, Bishop helped respond to a rash of inmate suicides by implementing changes to training as well as physical changes to the jail, some of which he’d seen at other facilities. Also, the re-entry program, which helps connect inmates with social services while they’re still behind bars, was something Bishop saw in another jail, he said.
“I said, ‘There’s some good ideas here,'” he said. “We can be doing the exact same thing.”
Even with balancing two jobs, Bishop said he finds time for other things he loves — such as spending time with his family and refereeing high school football.
At the end of the day, though, he said that working with jails is something he enjoys.
“I’m problem solving. I’m helping an administrator out somewhere in the country,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like work — it is that much fun.”