Commissioners Approve New Jail Expertise, Prepare To Tackle Wage Study
Grand Traverse County commissioners on Wednesday approved technology upgrades at the Grand Traverse County Jail that enable RFID tracking of inmates and outfit correctors using mobile devices that can monitor and collect prison data in real time – a systems prison administrator Chris Barsheff said that this will bring the district against lawsuits, improve prison security and save countless staff hours that are spent on paperwork. The commissioners also received the results of a long-awaited wage study on Wednesday that analyzed the county’s positions and salaries.
Barsheff made a proposal to commissioners to sign a contract with Guardian RFID for $ 37,396 – plus an annual license and maintenance fee of $ 1,045 – to implement a new inmate tracking system in the prison. RFID, or radio frequency identification technology, uses radio waves to identify people or objects. Smart labels embedded in an inmate’s bracelet or on a tag attached to a wall, such as next to a cell or in the prison cafeteria, emit waves and can be read by mobile devices worn by correctional officers.
Barhseff said the system would enable prison staff to “collect and document real-time observational data during a variety of activities including cell controls, security checks, inmate movements, staff counting, drug distribution, food distribution and more.” In addition to tracking inmate movements, officers can use their mobile devices to take photos and upload data instantly. For example, if an inmate complains about the portion size of a meal or refuses to take medication, the officer can take a photo of the meal or note the refusal to take medication and upload this data to the cloud immediately. This data is searchable, which means Barsheff would be able to see how many inmates refused medication on a given shift, or note where each inmate was in an emergency situation.
Barsheff said the system would replace the cumbersome paperwork system currently used to log data, requiring officers to spend hours at their desks rather than in jail, where their presence is more useful and deterring incidents in jail. “It will add tremendous value to the prison and our operations,” he said. He pointed out that the RFID system would also increase the accountability of prison staff, for example by showing whether an officer was behind on the staff count. Suicide checks are also electronically logged. Since Grand Traverse County has already seen multiple inmate suicides and attempted suicide and legal proceedings related to these cases, better data tracking will help the county mitigate future litigation, Barsheff said.
Working with county administrators and finance workers, Barsheff said he was able to identify funds within the existing prison budget to pay for the technology ugprades. He also noted that the RFID system is not tied to a specific building. So if a new Grand Traverse County Jail is ever built, the tags and scanning devices can be migrated to this new facility. With commissioners unanimously approving the proposal 5-0 on Wednesday (Commissioners Penny Morris and Betsy Coffia were absent), Barsheff said the technology would be ordered and likely delivered by the end of December, with full implementation starting in January. District officials also approved a separate proposal from Barsheff on Wednesday to update the prison’s file management software.
Also at their Wednesday meeting, the district commissioners received the long-awaited results of a district-wide wage study conducted by the consulting firm Management Advisory Group (MAG) International, which analyzes each district position and salary and compares wages with competitors in the public and private sectors. Comparisons included several other Michigan counties, as well as local entities such as the City of Traverse City, Traverse City Area Public Schools, and Northwestern Michigan College. MAG Representative Carolyn Long presented the commissioners with a brief summary of the county’s results of “supporting an internally fair remuneration system”.
Long, Grand Traverse County is lagging the market on all three measured tiers of wages. These included a lower end of the wage scale (or a minimum that the county is 8.95 percent behind), a medium salary range (that the county is 13.65 percent behind), and a maximum salary range (that the county is behind). 16.45 percent back). Overall, 46 percent of the jobs in Grand Traverse County are more than 10 percent below the market average. Achieving 10 percent of the market average “is considered competitive,” Long said, although she noted the county should aim to get within five percent.
Long said MAG will work with the county to try to “find a fair transition plan to migrate employees from the current pay structure” to a proposed new structure that would still reflect the county’s tax restrictions. The aim is to find an approach that is “affordable and sustainable,” she said. Grand Traverse County has seen high turnover in recent years, with the average employee staying for less than five years and the average turnover rate being 15.5 percent (other counties tend to be in the 12 percent range). County HR director Donna Kinsey previously told the ticker she wanted to keep that percentage below 10 percent and that outgoing employees cited wages as the main reason they left Grand Traverse County.
District Administrator Nate Alger said he plans to be present at the board meeting on the 15th or is in the process of being renegotiated. Commissioners could come out of this closed session and vote on a recommended course of action to implement some of the study’s recommendations. Commissioners signaled on Wednesday that they are serious about trying to make change and not just putting the study on the shelf.
“This (report) is big and there is a lot to rummage through … it’s 123 pages,” said Commissioner Darryl Nelson. “We’ll look into it and get the job done. We didn’t go through any of this just to take a back seat. “