Sheriff Jim Hammond at Silverdale
photo by Joseph Dycus
A private company that has been operating the jail facility at Silverdale for 36 years has given notice that it will no longer do so.
County Mayor Jim Coppinger said he has been notified by CoreCivic that it is exercising its option to get out of its contract with 180 day notice.
He said the private firm that formerly was known as the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is exiting Silverdale effective Dec. 30.
Operation of Silverdale will then revert to the sheriff, who already operates the County Jail downtown.
County Mayor Coppinger said it was "an amenable split."
He noted that the county was in a review itself of whether to continue the contract or let the sheriff take it off.
County officials have been moving toward eventually closing the jail on Walnut Street. It has been cited with a number of deficiencies. The plan has been to add more capacity at Silverdale.
The county mayor said CoreCivic owns most of the facilities it operates - except for one other in Florida. He said the company offered to buy Silverdale several years ago, but the county declined.
He said, "I think they continued to operate it as long as they did because this was their first facility in 1984."
County Mayor Coppinger said CoreCivic, with competition from Volkswagen, Amazon and other firms, had been having increasing problems with hiring staff.
He said CoreCivic said it made the decision to leave the facility "after much deliberation."
The county mayor said the company indicated it is willing to stay on beyond Dec. 30 to help out if the county is not ready to take over by the end of the year. He said the county does not expect to have to ask for that extension.
Sheriff Jim Hammond, later on Wednesday, described the long relationship between county and company as a mostly amicable one.
“They did a great job for a number of years, and I won’t say at what point that may have begun to shift a little bit, because I’m not going to throw them under the bus,” said Sheriff Hammond. “But under the life of the contract here, 99 percent of that contract has seen an excellent relationship.”
“I’ve been around most of those years, although I wasn’t here when the original contract (was agreed upon). It was a different time, a different political atmosphere, different parties in control, and a different philosophy about privatization.”
The sheriff said one of the reasons CoreCivic gave for ending the contract was safety concerns. He listed a few of them, and said that who should pay for what to be repaired is a point of contention between the two parties.
“I couldn’t give you a dollar amount, but it probably runs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, because this facility is aging out just like the jail,” said Sheriff Hammond. “There are problems with locks in the doors, deterioration in some of the steel, food service needs updating.”
“There are safety concerns, but it’s not so much because of any individual things. There’s going to be arguments over who should be paying for it. Make no mistake, the county owns the facility, but contracts have specific items that we may have a little disagreement over who should be fixing what.”
The sheriff said that CoreCivic plans to be out of Silverdale in mid to late-December. He said the company promised they would work with the county on a transition. The county currently spends about $18 million on their contract with CoreCivic.
Sheriff Hammond seemed confident in the county’s ability to convert some of the CoreCivic staff into county employees. He cited higher pay as the main reason for this.
“That would certainly be a carrot to get the employees out here who want to get with us,” said the sheriff. “We’d have to look at things such as do they have to pass the same background checks as county employees. I can tell you that benefits of county pay are better, so I’m optimistic we will get a number of at last the rank and file who want to transition.”
“I think it’s going to be problematic, because you have a lot of slots to fill and we’re already short by 30 positions downtown. That being said, the plan I’m working on may be a way around it, so I’m optimistic that we can look at the numbers, work with the transition team, and meet with the mayor and I’ll be prepared to talk about that.”