Clark County’s new Jail Services department is on track to take over management of the Clark County Jail on Jan. 1, staff said this week.
Deputy County Manager Amber Emery, who oversees the jail services department, said the transition will ultimately be good for the jail, the county and the sheriff’s office.
“Prioritizing the jail comes with many long-term benefits: increased exposure to county support systems, such as public health, community services, budget and facility support, human resources and recruiting. The jail is a countywide service and looking at it through the lens of countywide we can prioritize and elevate concerns,” Emery said. “We are working on the expansion and growth of mental health services in the jail and the rebuilding of our reentry program to connect persons transitioning from jail back to the community, services to be successful.”
Since the department was announced, the management team has been working quickly and steadily to meet a Jan. 1 implementation deadline. Emery said the team is still working on some items, but the transition will happen on time.
“Budget and full-time employees will be separate Jan. 1 and the operations and responsibility will transfer from the sheriff’s office to the jail services department. There are a few items that still need to be worked on (e.g. contracts) — if applicable, these will be addressed in a supplemental budget in 2023. Collaboration and teamwork with both departments will be ongoing into the new year,” Emery said.
County Manager Kathleen Otto appointed former sheriff’s deputy David Shook as head of the department, with Joe Barnett as manager of jail administration and Bryan Pilakowski manager of jail operations.
Barnett was a commander in corrections when the new department was announced. He has worked for the county for more than 30 years. Pilakowski has been with sheriff’s office for more than 20 years and was a corrections deputy. Shook, who ran unsuccessfully for sheriff this year, resigned from his position as a deputy with the sheriff’s office to take the jail services leadership role.
Along with the three executive-level positions, the new department has four commanders, a jail industries manager, 147 corrections officer positions (129 officers and 18 sergeants), and 41 support staff members.
Emery said there are still several open positions, including 28 officer positions and four support staff positions.
Perhaps the most complicated part of transitioning the jail management is the coordination needed with other law enforcement agencies.
“We have already had meetings with many of our local chiefs of police from the cities we serve. Our inmate population comes from all cities, the county and state (from Washington State Patrol) and that remains the same,” Emery said.
The county council in early December approved new contracts with the deputy sheriff’s guild and corrections deputy guild.
Even with staff in place, labor contracts hammered out and collaboration with other law enforcement agencies moving forward, some challenges to the transition remain.
“(It’s) not necessarily an insurmountable challenge, but the volume of programs required to be separated requires more time to accomplish than the Jan. 1 date (technology/applications, support, training). We are working with (new Sheriff John) Horch and his team to identify those programs that will transfer at a more reasonable time frame in 2023,” Emery said.
One challenge was separating the budget for the new department, which had previously been included in the sheriff’s office budget. Emery said line items previously assigned to corrections in the sheriff’s office budget were reassigned to jail services as part of the annual budget process completed in December.
The team also had to determine which positions had been shared between the sheriff’s office and jail and how to maintain or increase efficiencies while splitting the departments.
“We will see a few duplications such as internal affairs and training, but overall, the increased efficiencies will come with county support and the jail services being able to singularly focus on the jail and the services we provide,” Emery said.
With the end of the COVID-19 pandemic on the horizon, Emery said jail services is looking at recapturing some of the capacity lost due to safety protocols and boosting recruitment for corrections deputies.
“We’ve started a recruitment process that’s in conjunction with sheriff’s office … We’ve done shared group events to get folks in the door,” Emery said.
Another change coming after Jan. 1 is the removal of the civil service requirement from the hiring of corrections officers.
“That’s really a sheriff’s requirement. When that’s removed, it can shorten the process down two to three months,” she said.
Along with posting on standard job sites like Indeed and LinkedIn, they will be at a recruiting event at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in January.
“It’s critical that we get those (positions) filled because that is our growing capacity. That’s the jail work center and being able to open that back up, services and misdemeanors and some of the reentry programs that we have,” Emery said.
The county council’s next meeting is at 9 a.m. on Jan. 4 and will likely include an update on the transition. More information about the council meeting can be found at https://clark.wa.gov/councilors/clark-county-council-meetings.