Archived Story

Cass County Jail rates high in state

Published 8:52am Monday, September 21, 2009

By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News

CASSOPOLIS – Cass County Sheriff’s Office Jail is the only such agency in 83 Michigan counties 100-percent compliant with administrative rules and housing requirements nine years in a row through the Department of Corrections, Capt. Richard Affriseo reported to the Board of Commissioners Thursday night.

“We’re currently one of only 44 counties that are compliant,” Affriseo stated, “and one of 33 counties where all correctional staff have met all annual training requirements and are certified from going to academies. We’re one of only 25 counties that are compliant in both of these areas.”

Michigan law requires that each officer receive 160 hours in correctional academies and complete at least 20 hours.

“Myself, 22 staff at 20 hours, that’s460 hours of mandatory training,” said Affriseo, who has been jail administrator eight of his 19 years with the sheriff’s office.

He also spent four years employed with Washington state corrections in Walla Walla and with a women’s correctional facility for three years.

“Three things 99 percent of all inmates across the United States have in common, whether it’s prisons or county jails, are substance abuse problems with drugs and alcohol, they dropped out of high school and they lack respect for authority,” Affriseo said.
In response, the sheriff’s office incorporates many rehabilitation programs inside the facility at little cost to the county, such as Forgotten Man Ministries, adult education, which graduates an average of 10 a year with diplomas, a meth group and a Woodlands drug addiction group for drug and alcohol problems.

A new program, Navigators, targets those inmates about to be released into the community.

Volunteers try to make them think about what has landed them behind bars, what they want to do with the rest of their lives and to change their ways.

“They map a plan out to try and achieve that,” the captain told commissioners, “and they maintain contact with them when they get out of jail. Every time we change one life, whether it’s through Forgotten Man, education or through drug and alcohol, we’ve done a service to the county, as well as to the inmates.”

When the “new” jail opened in May 1990, 55 inmates transferred over from the 1958 jail adjacent to the 1899 courthouse, strip-searched them to prevent contraband and issued new uniforms.

When the facility first opened, the county rented 60 to 70 beds to other agencies, including the 61st District Bureau of Prisons,  U.S. Marshals and Oakland County.
“We did that for approximately five years,” Affriseo said, “then we started to see a decrease and we went down to just handling Grand Rapids. For the last five or six years there has been a marked decrease in revenue due to our own crime rate going up. Our average daily population grew quite a bit, and then, of course, other counties are facing the same financial problems we are.”

Affriseo’s staff includes four sergeants, 18 corrections officers and two to four part-timers.

“We’re only renting two to three beds to any particular agency,” he said, “but we’re always out there soliciting any beds that we have available.”

Functions of the jail start with the safety and security of the community, as well as the inmates. That is accomplished by preventing escapes. Inmates can only leave the facility by posting an appropriate bond set by a judge or serving their sentence.

Daily duties include clothing pat searches and strip searches of inmates, bookings and releases, cell searches, medication, mail and meals, emergency medical care, preliminary fire suppression, daily transports to court, pick-ups from facilities in other states and taking inmates to prison.

State-deferred inmates for which the county receives revenue occupy “straddle cells. They could have went to prison, but the judge decided to let them do local time. We get reimbursed for those seven or eight every month,” Affriseo said. “We still get two or three from the 61st District and DOC (Department of Corrections) parole violators until they decide what to do with them.”

Canteen has the contract to provide kitchen services and a commissary where inmates can buy hygiene items that the jail doesn’t provide.

Medical services come from the Van Buren-Cass District Health Department.

“We have a physician who’s assigned and a PA (physician’s assistant) that’s assigned,” Affriseo said, “and a nurse who works Monday-Friday from 8 until about 5 o’clock. However, we do have 24-hour service because she or another nurse is always on call. We have a very good working relationship with Woodlands for inmates on suicide watch or with mental illness. They respond very quickly.”

The jail is rated for 116 inmates. The average daily population over the last four years has been 126 – 10 over.

In 2008, intake of 2,225 included 1,660 males and 565 females, an average daily population of 130.7, including 129.4 from Cass County.

These included 128 Cass County domestic violence bookings, 98 domestic violence bookings for other agencies, 148 Cass County drunken driving bookings and 125 for other agencies. The jail served 142,502 meals and collected $3,943 in bond fees and $23,013.45 in booking fees.

“One trend is that females have gone up over the years,” he said. “Forty to 50 women changes the structure. We were set up to house 15 women. At the beginning of this year we had 30 women. We’re seeing more women because of the meth problem. We’re seeing more women come for longer stays and we’re seeing more women go to prison.”
Booking fees “we’re very aggressive about because those train the staff,” he said. “No funds come out of the general fund to train the Jail Division staff. “The bonding fee or warrant fee is posted by the person coming into our facility. They have to pay a $10 processing fee that stays with the county.”

If a person spends more than three days in jail, the nurse must find out their medical history.

After 14 days, the law requires a physical. That is 800 to 1,000 people a year and almost 600 a year, respectively. She also handles daily sick calls, sets up medications and identifies diabetics and seizure problems. “She’s busy,” Affriseo said of nurse Sue Kent.
“Congratulations on running such an efficient operation and partnering with other agencies in the county to put it all together,” said Vice Chairman Ron Francis, R-Cassopolis, asking the jail administrator what constitutes a “typical day’s menu.”
“They get about 2,600 calories a day,” Affriseo said. Breakfast might consist of eggs or pancakes.
“We eliminated coffee because it’s not nutritional. If they want coffee, they buy it in the commissary,” which in 2008 yielded a $12,039.23 commission.
Lunch might be a chicken patty or some kind of pasta, salad and homemade rolls.
Law requires two hot meals a day. Cass County provides three except on weekends, when sack lunches are issued for the evening meal.

“They do a fantastic job over there,” commented Commissioner Minnie Warren, D-Pokagon Township. “I want to commend you for the ones you see in the paper all the time graduating.”

Affriseo responded, “Programs are important. A lot of people say, ‘You’re coddling inmates.’ You know what? They come in a broken person and a detriment to our society, to our community. Why not provide services and give them the tools they lack? Whether or not they use them, that’s another choice. If they sat in our jail for a year and we did nothing, we didn’t do the community a service. Many of our programs are of very little cost to the county or to the Sheriff’s Office.”

Commissioner Dixie Ann File, R-Cassopolis, noted that inmate labor has been very beneficial to the county Parks Department.

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